Live August 1963 performance by the Bavarian State Opera, recorded at the Nationaltheater in Munich in August 1963. First issued on Lp by Deutsche Grammophon in 1964.
The fame of this performance rests on the presence of its two great stars, Lisa Della Casa and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Their voices are very well caught and reproduced. Because of the technological limitations of the time and the general difficulty of capturing any live opera performance before an audience, the excellent Bavarian State Opera Orchestra is not as well served as the singers. Overall sound is good but not quite up to capturing all the lushness and subtlety of this late Straussian score. The Bavarian audience is remarkably disciplined, disclosing its presence only by applause at appropriate times.
Graf Waldner, retired cavalry officer and luckless gambler - Karl Christian Kohn
Adelaide, his wife - Ira Malaniuk
Arabella, their elder daughter - Lisa Della Casa
Zdenka/Zdenko, their younger daughter, sometimes disguised as a male servant - Anneliese Rothenberger
Mandryka, a rich and therefore highly eligible bachelor from the countryside - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Matteo, a cavalryman who thinks he's in love with Arabella - Georg Paskuda
Graf Elerner, suitor to Arabella - Fritz Uhl
Graf Dominik, suitor to Arabella - Carl Hoppe
Graf Lamoral, suitor to Arabella - Horst Guenter
Die Fiakermilli, mascot of the Viennese cabmen - Eva Maria Rogner
A Fortune Teller - Caecilie Reich
Welko, Mandryka's valet: Walther Matthes
Djura, Mandryka's servant - Walter Ehrengut
A Waiter - Walter Carnuth
Three Gamblers - Erich Ringal, Karl Muecke and Matthias Mertes
Joseph Keilberth with the Bayerisches Staatsorchester and Bayerischer Staatsopernchor.
"Arabella" premiered in 1933. It was originally set out in three distinct acts but in 1939, largely at the prompting of his friend, the conductor and librettist Clemens Krauss, Strauss made some cuts and changes, the most obvious of which makes the opera flow continuously from Act II into Act III. The production recorded here reflects the 1939, second state of "Arabella." It should be noted that subsequent recordings and performances have tended to close the 1939 cuts and return to the initial text of 1933.
Disk 1 - Act I, tracks 1-16; Act II, tracks 17-20; 80:50.
Disk 2 - Act II (continued), tracks 1-10; Act III, tracks 11-22; 78:48.
No libretto. Plot synopsis keyed on track listings. Nothing on the opera or the performers. (For those interested in such things, a German language libretto is available on the internet as I write this.)
"Arabella" was the final operatic collaboration of Richard Strauss and his most famous librettist, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. It is a return to the territory of their greatest joint-triumph, "Der Rosenkavalier," and it might justifiably be described as "Rosenkavalier-lite."
The story is set in Vienna of the 1860s, a place that likely occupied some of Strauss' very earliest memories. A down-at-the-heels Austrian nobleman is attempting to stave off financial disaster by trailing his attractive and marriageable daughter Arabella before the eyes of eligible--that is, wealthy suitors. Unfortunately, he has a second and younger daughter whose presence might complicate matters, so she dresses up as a boy and pretends she is a family servant. Arabella has no difficulty in attracting crowds of suitors, including one dashing young cavalryman whom her younger sister adores, but she finds none of them to be the right man for her. Nevertheless, the two sisters are convinced that Mr. Right is out there, somewhere, and they sing a beautiful duet about him. Now in comes Mandryka, a rough-edged bumpkin from Croatia who has just inherited great wealth and has fallen in love with a picture of Arabella. Confusions and misapprehensions inevitably follow but in the end true love triumphs, sort of. All in all, the story of "Arabella" is very like one of those classy Preston Sturgess Hollywood comedies of the late 1930s, such as "The Lady Eve."
Musically, Strauss is generally in "Rosenkavalier"-mode. While all his skill is still there, the level of intensity and memorability he offers is noticeably lower than it had been in the earlier work. In Act II, everybody turns up at the annual Cabmen's Ball, which provides an opportunity for Richard Strauss to offer up some music in the style of Johann Strauss. Unfortunately, he takes the opportunity. The best that can be said of that passage is that it is short and R. Strauss soon returns to being R. Strauss, much to the relief of all.
The great Swiss soprano Lisa Della Casa simply owned the role of Arabella outright. She can only be described as wonderful here--although some insist that she was not quite what she had been a few years earlier. No-one in the past forty years and more has equaled her. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a great singer and far more at home in this material than in his occasional catastrophic forays into Italian opera. He gives a good performance, but I find him just a little too smooth and polished. Hans Hotter preceded him in the part and would have offered a touch of welcome and intractable granite.
Anneliese Rothenberger is very good as Zdenka/Zdenko, as are Kohn and Malaniuk as her parents. Richard Strauss despised tenors. In general, he didn't waste his time in attempting to write decent music for them. Here, Georg Paskuda, a second-rate tenor, sings Matteo's second-rate music and then is promptly and easily forgotten. The rest of the cast is quite good--except for Eva Maria Rogner who is bloody awful in Strauss' poor imitation of "Der Fledermaus."
Joseph Keilberth was the Rodney Dangerfield of conductors. He just didn't get no respect. The good, grey Gramophone Magazine loftily sniffed that he was "a good routinier but an uninspired conductor." Perhaps so, but I have never heard him conduct an unsatisfactory opera performance. And from this routinier it is always the composer's music that I hear, something not always the case with "inspired" conductors like Karajan and Solti.
This is a good recording of a classic performance with the greatest of all Arabellas. It is offered at a bargain price. Of course it is worth five stars.