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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Arabella

A rare revival of Strauss' elegant comedy.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Ready for her close-up: Malyn Byckström in the title role of Arabella.
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2014 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Metropolitan Opera has not revived Richard Strauss' Arabella since 2001. As the classical music world celebrates the composer's 150th birthday, this handsome Otto Schenk production returns under the baton of Washington National Opera music director Philippe Auguin.

This revival is a showcase for a slew of talented artists. Soprano Malyn Byckström sings the title role, the daughter of a noble but impoverished family in Vienna at the height of Carnival season. On the eve of the sumptuous Cabbies' Ball, Arabella discovers "Mr. Right."

In his Met debut, baritone Michael Volle is Mandryka, the mysterious foreigner who turns out to be the man of Arabella's dreams. Also making her Met debut: Juliane Banse, who sings the crucial role of Arabella's younger sister Zdenka. Ms. Banse will spend most of the opera in travesti as "Zdenko". She forced to disguise herself as a boy in order to spare the Waldner the expense of bringing two young ladies out into polite Viennese society.

Arabella was Richard Strauss' tenth opera and the last in his long collaboration with librettist Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. It was conceived as an attempt to recreate the success of Der Rosenkavalier, and its Viennese setting, cross-dressing and use of dance rhythms recalls the earlier opera to some degree. However, Arabella is darker in tone, filled with longing for the lost Austrian society of the gilded age.

Arabella opens April 3, 2014.

Recording Recommendations:

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Karl Böhm (Deutsche Grammophon 1947)
Arabella: Maria Reining
Zdenka: Lisa della Casa
Mandryka: Hans Hotter

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Sir Georg Solti (Decca, 1957)
Arabella: Lisa della Casa
Zdenka: Hilde Guëden
Mandryka: George London

In the 20th century, Lisa Della Casa was the definitive interpreter of Arabella, doing much to maintain interest in what is generally considered one of the lesser Strauss operas. She takes the role of Zdenka in this monaural Karl Böhm recording, made from a live broadcast from the 1947 Salzburg Festival. A decade later, she moved to the title role for this classic Decca set, the first of many Strauss recordings made by Georg Solti for that label.

Tickets for Arabella are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office starting August 11.

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