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R Strauss: Arabella (DVD)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: R Strauss
LABELS: C Major
WORKS: Arabella
PERFORMER: Renée Fleming, Thomas Hampson, Gabriela BeˇnaΩková, Albert Dohmen, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, Daniel Behle; Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden; Staatskapelle Dresden/Christian Thielemann; dir. Florentine Klepper
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 717208; C Major Blu-ray: 717304

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It’s a frustrating luxury to get Renée Fleming’s second Arabella on DVD when we need to see the more poised heroines of Anja Harteros and Anne Schwanewilms. Still, this is a more perceptive production than the first on Decca, and supported by full, balanced orchestra under Christian Thielemann. Fleming’s is a nuanced characterisation, with the right Straussian bloom save for the Act II duet. I just don’t believe that this is a young girl grown up fast in the face of feckless parents, just Fleming herself reacting sincerely to awkward situations and outmoded sexism; though Hofmannsthal gives his Arabella ammunition against the chauvinists, she seems to capitulate too quickly when faced with Count ‘Mr Right’ Mandryka, and the only way to handle that here is irony.

The bullish gent from the far corner of the Austrian empire is the suitably big Thomas Hampson, though now with wear at the top of his voice and not enough physical ease. Show-stealers are the desperate youngsters, Daniel Behle’s suitor Matteo and Hanna-Elisabeth Müller’s supportive sibling Zdenka, convincing as both boy and girl. Ma and Pa are respectively over- and underdone, by a former ‘beautiful voice’, Gabriela BenˇaΩková, and the scary-eyed Albert Dohmen. Unfortunately Act I’s realistic comedy – 40 or so years on from the suggested 1860s – fails to return from its Act II excursion into surrealism; the final crisis is unfocused. Still, there are plenty of good ideas here from director Florentine Klepper, mostly caught in the close-ups.

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David Nice