Richard Strauss's elegantly playful opera Arabella
(sometimes close to operetta in style) gets a polished, light-hearted, but also serious production at the Glyndebourne Festival. Ashley Putnam gives a glowing performance in the title role and she has a strong supporting cast. John Cox's stage direction and Julia Trevelyan Oman's design create a convincing atmosphere of 19th-century Vienna (not without a dark side to provoke dramatic interest) and Bernard Haitink's conducting of the London Philharmonic is splendidly idiomatic, in the dramatic music as well as the waltz and folk dance melodies that brighten the score.
Arabella is the last libretto written for Strauss by Hugo von Hofmannsthal before his untimely death, and it has the high literary value found in all his work, although he did not live to revise Acts II and III. The story focuses on a Viennese family--Count Waldemar, his wife Adelaide and two daughters, Arabella and Zdenka. They are living in genteel poverty and hoping that Arabella, who has several suitors, will marry well and recoup their fortune. They are so poor that Zdenka has been raised as a boy because the family cannot afford to bring out two daughters in Viennese society. A properly rich suitor, Mandryka, shows up and it is love at first sight, until Zdenka confuses the situation. She is in love with one of Arabella's suitors, Matteo, sends him love letters under Arabella's name and seduces him in a darkened bedroom under the pretence that she is Arabella. Mandrkya learns of the seduction but not of Zdenka's deception, and breaks off his engagement to Arabella. There is, of course, a happy ending.
Putnam is sweet and troubled in stage presence, silvery in tone and totally charming. John Brocheler is an ardent, impetuous Mandryka and Gianna Rolandi is convincing in the rather difficult role of Zdenka. Gwendolyn Bradley makes an impressive appearance as Fiakermilli, the belle of the coachmen's ball in Act II, one of the opera's favourite features with Viennese audiences. --Joe McLellan
With its romantic Viennese plot and its lush waltz-time melodies, the last collaboration between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal has often been labelled a second Rosenkavalier
. Happily however, Arabella
has been recognized as a masterpiece. The craft of detail that Strauss brought to this amorous comedy about the complications surrounding his heroines betrothal to a rich landowner, benefits from careful staging, scrupulous preparation and intimacy, all qualities in which Glyndebourne has excelled since its beginnings in 1934.