The Metropolitan Opera – Richard Strauss’s Arabella with Malin Byström & Michael Volle conducted by Philippe Auguin

Arabella – Opera in three Acts to a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal [sung in German with English Met Titles by Christopher Bergen]

Arabella – Malin Byström
Zdenka – Juliane Banse
Mandryka – Michael Volle
Matteo – Roberto Saccà
Adelaide – Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Count Waldner – Martin Winkler
The Fiakermilli – Audrey Luna
Fortuneteller – Victoria Livengood
Count Elemer – Brian Jagde
Count Dominik – Alexey Lavrov
Count Lamoral – Keith Miller
Welko – Mark Persing
Waiter – Mark Schowalter
Djura – Jeffrey Mosher
Jankel – Timothy Breese Miller
Card-players – Scott Dispensa, Seth Malkin & Earl Patriarco

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

The Orchestra of Metropolitan Opera
Philippe Auguin

Otto Schenk – Production
Günther Schneider-Siemssen – Set Designer
Milena Canonero – Costume Designer
Gil Wechsler – Lighting Designer
Stephen Pickover – Stage Director

Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 3 April, 2014
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City

Malin Byström as the title character of Richard Strauss's Arabella. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan OperaRichard Strauss’s lively romance Arabella (1932) returns to the Metropolitan Opera repertory after a decade and more. Regarded as an inferior follow-up to Der Rosenkavalier, Strauss’s final collaboration with Hugo von Hofmannsthal is now more often referred to as an “opera for connoisseurs”. Hofmannsthal died of a stroke shortly after he had completed the final version of Act One, and while the libretto is less than superb, the work has some very special qualities – a poignant love story set in Vienna in the1860s, an intimate and graceful score, and one of the most heart-tugging finales in the entire repertoire.

The plot focuses on the aristocratic Viennese Waldner family. Bankrupted by the father’s gambling, the only hope is to marry off the older, eponymously named daughter to someone solvent. Unable to afford to introduce two daughters into society at the same time, the parents have disguised their younger offspring Zdenka, as a boy. The plot revolves around Arabella’s good fortune in finding true love with a wealthy Balkan landowner, Mandryka, and Zdenka’s secret, and finally successful, efforts to ensnare Matteo, one of Arabella’s rejected suitors.

Michael Volle as Mandryka and Malin Byström as the title character of Richard Strauss's Arabella. Photograph: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan OperaThis appropriately nostalgic Otto Schenk production, which premiered in 1983, boasts many strong points: handsome period costumes by Milena Canonero, lavish sets by Günther Schneider-Siemssen, and dramatically effective lighting by Gil Wechsler. But what made this first-night performance truly brilliant was great singing and acting by the strong cast, six of whom were making their Met debuts.

In only her third appearance at this house (she sang two performances of Marguerite in Gounod’s Faust in the 2011-12 season), Malin Byström was a welcome surprise in the title role. A tall, glamorous figure, she was as lovely to watch as she was to listen to. Arabella’s pride, sincerity and warmth were always present in her characterization, and her plush voice demonstrated wonderful tonal variety and verbal clarity. She was deeply affecting in projecting her character’s dignity and hurt when unfairly accused of betrayal by Mandryka, and she was especially well-partnered with Juliane Banse, who made an uncommonly convincing Zdenka. Banse’s lighter but equally secure soprano blended to perfection with Byström’s in the crucial scenes when they are together.

In the evening’s most highly-anticipated debut, Michael Volle was a superb Mandryka. In a role that makes great demands in both the highest and lowest extremes of the baritone range, he was completely at ease with the writing, and his well-tuned instrument was finely supported by a strong physical and verbal presence. His highly nuanced performance tellingly portrayed both the tender and rough sides of Mandryka’s character and he was at his most convincing in the Act Two love-scene

Roberto Saccà was perfectly cast as Matteo, ably projecting the rejected suitor’s petulance. He sang with great passion, and his beautiful lyric tenor turned appropriately strident when pressed. Martin Winkler and Catherine Wyn-Rogers delivered thoughtful and firmly toned renditions as Arabella’s parents, and Brian Jagde was a memorable Count Elemer.

Stage director Stephen Pickover obtained wonderfully nuanced and natural performances from the cast; and in an opera in which dialogue is all-important the singers brought fine diction to the sung as well as the spoken words. Philippe Auguin complimented this with a sumptuous performance from the Met Orchestra that stressed the intimate aspects of Strauss’s score while letting the gleaming sonorities shine through.

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