[Met Performance] CID:271560

New Production

Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, February 10, 1983

Debut : Milena Canonero

Arabella (24)
Richard Strauss | Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Kiri Te Kanawa

Bernd Weikl

Kathleen Battle

David Rendall

Mignon Dunn

Count Waldner
Donald Gramm

Elizabeth Coss

Count Elemer
Timothy Jenkins

Count Dominik
Vernon Hartman

Count Lamoral
Julien Robbins

Gwendolyn Bradley

John Bills

Richard Firmin

Fawayne Murphy

Anthony Laciura

Card Player
Gene Boucher

Card Player
Russell Christopher

Card Player
Andrij Dobriansky

Erich Leinsdorf

Otto Schenk

Set Designer
Günther Schneider-Siemssen

Costume Designer
Milena Canonero [Debut]

Lighting Designer
Gil Wechsler

Arabella received seven performances this season.

Production gift of Mrs. Michael Falk

Review 1:

Review of Patrick J. Smith in Opera

New York. I find it difficult to write about "Arabella," not because of dislike of the opera but for precisely the opposite reason. My inordinate admiration for what Strauss and Hofmannsthal accomplished, even granting the obvious deficiencies in both plot and music, leads me to search for an ideal performance that has rarely if ever occurred. Although the opera can get by with superior voices for the big moments (one to an act), this is only the minimum of achievement. Aside from the vocal qualities of the three principals-Arabella, Zdenka and Mandryka-there has to be special attention to the text (crucial in this opera, where characterizational nuance is all-controlling), to acting, and to a stage picture which defines this work, which I believe to be the most subtle and profound of all operatic comedies of manners.

The new METROPOLITAN OPERA production of February 10 (the first in German, the previous production always having been performed in English) illuminated a good many of Arabella' s merits through its scenery, casting and production. But, although the vocalism was well above average, the evening finally did not achieve a sustained power owing to the efforts of the two principals, who never became the characters of Arabella and Mandryka.

From the sheerly vocal standpoint, Kiri Te Kanawa is an ideal Arabella. The power and creamy effortlessness of her voice, and its always-musical sense, grant more than welcome presence, and one particularly appealing in the first act yearning-for-true love and in the slow calm of the final scene of forgiveness (though her first-act costume was ill-advised, since it made her look as matronly as her mother!). The role's very real charm was always communicated, her solicitude for her sister well brought out, and the touching scene of the dismissal of her suitors handled with expert individuality. Yet what Te Kanawa's Arabella lacked was exactly what sets Arabella apart from the usual sweet girl in love: that inner fortitude which distinguishes her from Zdenka, which explains her obstinacy at not making an easy match which will rescue her family (whom she deeply loves) from poverty, and which, in the third act, enriches her character and, through that, the opera. Te Kanawa's Arabella never develops from the first act- I never felt in any way the real and poignant hurt that Mandryka visited upon her. In the third act, Te Kanawa never really denies Mandryka, or shows any anguish, so that the final scena of forgiveness does not assume the concluding stature it must possess to close the drama.

Two things worked against Te Kanawa: one innate in her voice and one in the production. Te Kanawa places vocalism before enunciation of text, so that too many of the vital words are lost in the music: she paints the role, to its detriment, in impressionist soft-focus. The production moreover opted for a third-act cut which deprived Arabella of her most revealing speech: the one in which she tells Zdenka that she (Zdenka) is the better of the two of them because she has always obeyed the dictates of her heart. This speech must be included, even though the music is at this point weak, for it shows the awareness of self that makes Arabella's final line to Mandryka- " I can be no other: take me as I am"- so meaningful.

Bernd Weikl, as Mandryka, attempts to project what is a lyric baritone into a dramatic role, with mixed results. The voice never has the cutting edge it must have to dominate the stage, especially in the latter, largely barren stretches of the second act when the singer must convince an audience of his sudden change of mood. Weikl substituted a sort of puppy-dog exuberance, accented by his looks (with his mop hair), which was always engaging, but which never gave Mandryka the stature he must have. Similarly, in the third act he became a rather dim figure, perplexed and baffled rather than roaring with pain. Thus the conclusion became a meeting of two very nice young people who would make what society columns would call " a charming couple", and not the fusing of two strong- willed individuals who are, at once, both hopelessly in love but fully themselves.

Kathleen Battle's Zdenka was superior: fully believable both as a boy and a girl, singing with a fresh insouciance (and a pin-point soprano which contrasted so beautifully with that of Te Kanawa), attention to words, and acting with a vital intelligence. She is a major artist.

The surrounding cast was strongly chosen. Donald Gramm, as Waldner, underplayed the role rather than making it into a broad-accented German buffo, and brought to life the inner pride of the down-at-heel nobleman. His first-act scene with Mandryka was a highpoint of the evening (this must be one of the most closely characterized duologues in opera); the clarity of his enunciation was exemplary. David Rendall's tenor was taxed by Matteo, but he managed quite well; Mignon Dunn was somewhat shrill as Adelaide; Gwendolyn Bradley (Fiakermilli) refused to camp up the role, and thus gave it a believability it does not usually have. The three suitors were excellent, particularly Timothy Jenkins's strong Elemer and Julien Robbins's coltish, dew-eyed Lamoral: his dismissal by Arabella was infinitely touching.

Gunther Schneider-Siemssen does some of his best work at the Met., and his settings conveyed exactly the atmosphere Hofmannsthal wanted. I especially admired the faded, dark-green elegance of the first-act hotel room, and the two-level set for the ballroom, with the dancers seen on a lower level at the back. The staircase in the third act was properly placed centrally. Otto Schenk brought out the stage-dramatic underpinning of the opera in his wise handling of the principals and in his elucidation of action through character. The faults of the production were not, finally, his, though he missed the easy fluidity of the traffic in the second act that Rudolf Hartmann (in my experience) brought to it.

Erich Leinsdorf's conducting, brisk and emotionally neutral, never ennobled proceedings, though his handling of the later part of the second act kept things moving smartly and efficiently forward, to its benefit. Now and then he jollied along the singers, which avoided a treacly sentimentality, but he also denied them those expansions of phrase that are Strauss's musical glories. His handling of the last scene, however, was assured. All too often, the orchestra sounded rough.

Photograph of Kiri Te Kanawa in the title role of Arabella by Winnie Klotz/Metropolitan Opera.

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