Monday, September 17, 2012

Richard Strauss: Arabella – Zurich, 2007: It's Different for Girls

Fleming as Arabella and Kleiter as Zdenka

Arabella is sometimes considered a poor relation to Strauss’ Rosenkavalier and, to some extent, Capriccio. The title soprano part is actually very similar in character to the Countess and the Marschallin, and most sopranos who sing one of these roles, usually sing the other two, also.  The plot is light: Arabella wants to marry der Richtige (loosely translated as Mr. Right) and her parents want her to marry for wealth, as they are in dire financial straits. Arabella’s sister Zdenka is disguised as a boy Zdenko—because the family cannot afford to formally “present” two daughters to society. Of course, Zdenka is in love with Matteo, Arabella’s most ardent suitor, but cannot admit it since everyone thinks she’s a boy. Confusion and a scandal ensue, and ultimately there is a happy ending. 

This production by Götz Friedrich is placed in the slightly ambiguous present, with updated sets (but kind of cheap looking) and relatively contemporary costumes. However, I wouldn’t call this Regieoper, as there doesn’t seem to be any overarching concept or new interpretation of the story. The hotel room set is fairly spare; after all, they are running out of money. The ballroom is odd; it’s not lavish or fancy enough for a “literal” concept, but not really spare enough for Regie. And I am not sure what was going on with various characters drawing the sheer curtain back and forth. The hotel lobby in the final scene was the most convincing set to me (and I'm pretty sure I recognize those doors from the Guth Ariadne). 
I would guess that Renée Fleming’s Arabella is the reason for this production.  She is awesome here and Julia Kleiter as Zdenka/Zdenko, matches her note-for-note.  Their Act 1 duet is exquisite, as their voices overlap and intertwine. Julia Kleiter is a girl dressed as a boy (Not a girl playing a boy, or a girl playing a boy dressed up as a girl—opera can be so kinky!). Ironically, she looks more masculine than most Cherubini, Octavians, and Orfeos I’ve ever seen.  Yet out of drag, she is far from butch!
Another classic Strauss Soprano Duet

Morten Frank Larsen (bass-baritone) was a replacement for Thomas Hampson; it’s too bad this is the performance they recorded. Larsen looks very handsome and dashing. But his voice seems forced (almost bellowing sometimes), squeezed, and wobbly; he sounds much older than he looks. I am not sure if he was having a bad night, or is singing a heavier or higher role than he is used to.  I sometimes found Larsen difficult to listen to, and I have to confess that I did fast forward through some of his longer, more bellowy bits. Johan Weigl proves once again that Strauss hated tenors.
In contrast, Sen Guo, in the bit part of Fiakermilli, sounds more comfortable the higher she goes. Other roles are ably filled by other Zurich “regulars” including Alfred Muff, Cornelia Kallisch,  Peter Straka, and Morgan Moody. Franz Welser-Möst handles the Zurich Opera Orchestra well, and I enjoyed being able to watch them during the Act 2 interlude.
My advice on this DVD is to check it out.  I enjoyed Fleming, Kleiter, mostly everyone in the supporting roles, and the band.  So, get it for the sisters, but maybe keep the remote handy in case of baritonal vocal emergencies. 


  1. Fleming sounds lovely - and Kleiter does look pretty boyish in that suit! I think she was in a dvd of Mozart's La finta giardinera that I saw (and loved) a while back - I'll have to keep my eye out for more of her performances.

  2. Ja, Julia is Serpetta in that performance. I have real trouble with that opera. I dont think I can slow down enough for all those really long aria. And I am sure all those dead branches have deep meaning but they really got on my nerves! :)

    She is also Pamina in the very strange Martin Kušej Magic Flute. I am going to review SOMEday!


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