Thursday, September 25, 2008

Arabella


Arabella soprano Renee Fleming
Zdenka, her sister soprano Julia Kleiter 


Mandryka, a Croatian landowner baritone Morten Frank Larsen

After hearing Renée Fleming sing the ending to Capriccio, I thought it might be time to listen to my DVD of Arabella from the Zürich Opera. I don't have a lot of Arabellas to draw on for comparison.

The plot is a little thin. A young woman first coming of age during that fabulous German excuse for endless parties--Fasching--must commit tonight to someone she will marry in order to save her family from financial ruin. She will do her duty but still longs for the man of her dreams who will sweep her off her feet. He shows up, they get together, etc.

There is a somewhat amusing subplot. The mezzo in drag is actually in drag in the story. This has to be some kind of opera joke put in to confuse regular opera goers. She is in love with her friend Matteo who loves her sister Arabella. The subplot has a happy ending, too.

The production is a typical Zurich minimalist design. Simple modern clothing with not much in the way of set. I would think the locals would be tiring of this style by now.

Renée is divine as Arabella, but the musical preparation of the rest of the cast is disappointing. No one but Renée comes close to getting it. It's basically two operas--when Renée is singing and when she isn't. Someone seems to have created the impression that singing Strauss is nothing more than pronouncing the words and hitting the correct notes. It is so far from the correct style for Strauss it's embarrassing. They do excellent Handel in Zurich and a pretty nice Carmen, but this misses.

Morten Frank Larsen as the man of her dreams just made me wish for Jonas Kaufmann. He looked beautiful but sounded wooden and unpleasant. They should have done better by Renée.

Strauss is all in the phrasing. All. No phrasing, no music.

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