[Met Performance] CID:271830

Metropolitan Opera House, Sat, March 5, 1983 Matinee Broadcast
Broadcast Matinee Broadcast

Arabella (30)
Richard Strauss | Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Kiri Te Kanawa

Bernd Weikl

Kathleen Battle

David Rendall

Mignon Dunn

Count Waldner
Donald Gramm [Last performance]

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 [Last performance]

Rebroadcast on Sirius Metropolitan Opera Radio

Review 1:

Leighton Kerner in the Village Voice
“Arabella” in Progress?

The "glamorous center" that I found missing from the Met's new “Arabella” production when I first saw it has been at least partly restored. My first reaction, printed in these pages three weeks ago, was colored by the replacement of KiriTe Kanawa by Ingrid Klemring because of illness at the season's second performance of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's and Richard Strauss's bittersweet comedy. Klemring, an experienced Arabella from Germany making her Met debut as her better- known New Zealand colleague's cover, displayed, as I indicated, a beautiful, shimmering soprano that weakened only in the later part of the evening, but lacked Te Kanawa's poise and glamour. The latter soprano, it turned out, only missed that second performance, but other business kept me from catching up with her Arabella until the last one, the March 5 broadcast matinée.

Why "partly restored" center? Because one of Klemring's most obvious handicaps, the new costumes designed by Milena Canonero, also proved an obstacle to Dame Kiri, as did her tightly drawn, too highly placed wig. Both elements conspired to make her Arabella, whom one takes to be at the most about 20, since she's of society-debut age, look older than her Princess von Werdenberg, a lady in her 30s, in the Met's current “Der Rosenkavalier.” Otherwise, Dame Kiri's Arabella is a charming performance not yet arrived, despite several years' experience with the role, at the fullness of charm, wit, and the unsettling but in the end stable mixture of lightheadedness and seriousness that New York witnessed when Lisa Della Casa sang the role at the old Met in the late 1950s and mid-'60s. Her lyric soprano is substantial and high-lying enough to handle the music, but her articulation needs more pointing-up, her phrasing better defined arcs, and her range of timbre just a bit shrewder coloring. It's good that she's announced to resume the role at the Met next season, along with Verdi's very differently problematical Violetta. Dame Kiri may, in fact, lack not experience as Arabella so much as experience with Arabella in a house as monstrously big as the Met.

Having finally seen Kiri Te Kanawa in the role, I now see where I may have hit Klemring a bit too hard about her descent on the stairway with the ritual glass of water that signifies betrothal to the opera's hero, Mandryka. What I first took to be a misguided attempt at seduction can now be recognized as a bit of stage business perhaps hurriedly learned from Klemring's having watched but not thoroughly understood director Otto Schenk's instructions to Dame Kiri. When the latter walked down the stairs, she gave Mandryka a radiantly loving look and sustained that look while leaning over the banister until she was ready to sing. It was a beautiful action, which Miss Klemring will probably get right if she is given another opportunity to sing in this production.

Having taken a fair amount of space in my first report to describe the opera itself, but not much to describe the performance; I now offer more thoughts about the latter. Erich Leinsdorf, who conducted "Arabella" in its Della Casa seasons at the Met as well as the new production, is certainly experienced enough with the score; he was on the musical staff when the work had its Viennese premiere, shortly before the Anschluss made him a refugee. But he conducted the season's second performance with nothing more than heavy-handed efficiency, turning golden or at least silvery moments into lead. At the last performance, the touch was generally lighter, but all the more bland, and sheets and sheets of well-tailored sound streamed out with almost no regard for the nuances obviously intended by Strauss and certainly spelled out by librettist Hofmannsthal.

Bernd Weikl's Mandryka had not become very much unstarched by the end of the run, just enough to hope for more improvement next season and consequently for a mutual warming of both lead roles. Kathleen Battle's Zdenka, sister to Arabella, sounded ideal. Her silvery soprano is enhanced, particularly in German repertory, by her ability to color and caress consonants up to their optimum expressibility. She has lots of upcoming colleagues in her light-lyric voice category, but none as far as I know come near her in this matter of word projection. If only her touching performance hadn't been hampered by a makeup job that made no attempt to disguise the fact that she's black, this in the face of a libretto that has her mother's fortune-teller describe her as a blonde maiden. Perhaps Elizabeth Coss's in-and-out diction concealed the possible fact that the words had been changed to "junge Mädchen." Big deal.

As for the rest of Arabella, the relatively diminutive Donald Gramm and the relatively voluptuous Mignon Dunn made a marvelous Jiggs-and-Maggie couple as Count and Countess Waldner, Arabella's and Zdenka's improvident, sometimes scatterbrained, but ultimately lovable parents. David Rendall sounded well except for the highest reaches of the music of Matteo, Zdenka's unknowing beloved, Julien Robbins stopped just short of the insufferable in making Count Lamoral an engagingly funny fop, and Gwendolyn Bradley sang and flirted with aplomb in what must be the coloratura repertory's emptiest role, that of Fiakermilli. Had Hofmannsthal not died four years before the premiere, something, perhaps the scissors, would have been brought to bear on the poor little teaser. Yet Arabella as a whole works and touches the heart when performed with style, and the Met, with a different conductor, Marek Janowski, has another chance next season.

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