Well known for scheduling operas by Strauss in their delightful summer season, the Santa Fe Opera came through this summer with a delightful presentation of Arabella, a truly Viennese confection, the ultimate collaboration of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The weather was perfect, the singing glorious and the conducting by Sir Andrew Davis of Strauss' melodic but conversational score could not be faulted as massive orchestral forces were employed to bring out the master's lavishly complex harmonies.
Soprano Erin Wall, well remembered from her performance of Daphne, did a fine job interpreting the role of the eponymous heroine, a most sought after debutante from a newly enobled family, the Waldners. Much of the opera involves the not very welcomed courtship of her by her many suitors. Tenor Zach Borichevsky not only sang with fine Straussian style but created a most sympathetic character as Matteo, a young officer beloved by Arabella's sister Zdenka but pining after Arabella. Zdenka, in an interesting twist, has been raised as a boy to save her parents the expense of "coming out". Until the third act "reveal", poor Matteo thinks of the young man as Zdenko, his only friend.
The theme of the opera would seem to be the farewell Arabella makes of her girlhood at the Fasching Ball and her assumption of the role of adult in romantic partnership with Mandryka whom she spies from the window and with whom she falls instantly in love. Fortuitously, Mandryka is the nephew of an old army buddy of Count Waldner and an acceptable suitor; the Count has gambled away the family fortunes and Mandryka is a wealthy landowner. The first act offers the listener a marvelous duet between the two men; Count Waldner is superbly portrayed by bass-baritone Dale Travis while Mandryka is well sung by baritone Mark Delavan. There is a slight sense of unbelievability in the romance between Arabella and Mandryka since their duet in Act II simply lacks connection and chemistry and his character is portrayed without any charm. All of Arabella's suitors are wealthy and charming and it is difficult to understand her choice. But then, the heart wants what the heart wants and who are we to judge!
In a charming and superbly sung performance as Zdenka, soprano Heidi Stober, well remembered from Platee, won our hearts and thunderous applause from the audience. Kiri Deonarine thrilled us with her coloratura in the role of Fiakermilli. Mezzo Victoria Livengood made a fine and funny Countess Waldner and baritone Brian Jagde was impressive as Count Elemer, one of Arabella's many suitors. We were pleased to see Jonathan Michie, well remembered from Albert Herring as Dominik, one of Arabella's suitors.
The production, directed by Tim Albery, was updated without any valid dramatic reason, from the 1860's, chosen by the creators, to about 1920, judging by the Poiret type costumes. The costumes and sets by David Finn were lovely but lacking in color. Wigs were ill-fitting and unbecoming. Dramatic fluidity seemed somewhat lacking and the final act which is supposed to take place in the Waldner home seems to take place in some ill-defined area of the hotel. It can be annoying when such liberties of time and place are chosen. But that is a small reservation in what amounted to a delightful evening.
(c) meche kroop