A sublime Renée Fleming triumphs as Arabella
"Arabella" is the fifth and last joint project of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who did not live long enough to revise the final version of the libretto. A relatively straightforward story of love at first sight, it was premiered in Dresden in 1933. Hovering between seriousness and light-heartedness, the work is a feast for singers, and, in Arabella and Mandryka, contains two richly elaborated characters.
Renée Fleming, the diva assoluta of our time, is the undisputable star of the Zurich Opera's production of "Arabella" by Richard Strauss. Her radiant beauty – underscored by the sumptuous costumes of Gottfried Pilz and Isabel Ines Glathar – is complemented by her seductive "double-crème timbre" (Georg Solti). As Arabella, Fleming marshals up the full range of her expressive powers, from an airy, girlish lightness to a delicate shyness, and to a profound sadness in the third act, where tragedy looms but is only brushed...
Götz Friedrich's production, set in the late 1920s, the time of the work's origin, proves every bit as compelling as at its premiere in 2000. The reprise featured a number of different singers besides Renée Fleming, notably the Danish baritone Morten Frank Larsen as an attractive Mandryka with solid high notes and a beguiling sweetness in the cantabile passages. As Arabella's younger sister Zdenka, Julia Kleiter sings with an intoxicating warmth and lyricism that harmonize perfectly with Fleming's timbre. Refreshingly comical are Alfred Muff and Cornelia Kallisch as Arabella's impoverished parents.
Conductor Franz Welser-Möst opts for a slender Strauss sound that ideally fits the work's operetta-like mood and underscores its closeness to delicate, filigree chamber music. While he lets the undulating melodies, especially those of Arabella and Zdenka, glow gently and vibrantly, he masters the grand gesture and emphatic textures with the same faultless precision and balance. This "Arabella" is a must for everyone who loves Strauss, especially the Strauss of "Der Rosenkavalier"!