R Strauss: Arabella

WORKS: Arabella
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming, Morten Frank Larsen, Julia Kleiter, Johan Weigel; Opernhaus Zürich Chorus & Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst; dir. Götz Friedrich (Zurich, 2007)
CATALOGUE NO: 074 3263
Lovely Arabella, the placid beauty who gets shaken up on the way to marrying Mr Right, surely sits better in the 1860s of Strauss and Hofmannsthal’s scenario than in an updating to the present day: what about the threatened duels, or the necessary dressing-up of an unmarriageable girl as a boy; and what on the other hand do we gain in the change? Gottfried Pilz’s hotel room and lobby for Götz Friedrich’s slightly undercooked production look suitably stylish, but his middle Act, a ballroom staircase with blue balloons, is unconvincing. Within these variable mises en scène are performances of equally variable realism. La Fleming’s Arabella, a mature lady suffering a bad hair day, lacks the naïve strength of purpose redeeming the spoilt daughter; but she’s on top vocal form and blossoms in the big phrases. Morten Frank Larsen as her half-peasant Mandryka from the sticks looks young and handsome, but sounds old and spread until he gains focus in the fraught last Act. The well-observed parents are nicely taken by Zurich regulars, and the real star is Julia Kleiter’s utterly believable, soaring Zdenka. Franz Welser-Möst etches clean textures in the lovemaking interlude – supplanting the messy Act II finale, as approved by Strauss in 1939 – and moves things along nicely, but he neither boils like in the intrigue-music, nor flourishes in the sensuousness. A better sense of the knife-edge confusion in period costume is to be found in the old Glyndebourne production (Warner), with Ashley Putnam a truly youthful and gorgeous Arabella. David Nice