A “lyric comedy” is what Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal called their last joint work, written between 1927 and 1929. Although Strauss had requested “… ideally a Rosenkavalier mark II without that work's errors and length”, Arabella revolves around true love between two very different couples: that true love which unites two people forever “in joy and sorrow, hurt and forgiveness”, according to Arabella at the end of the opera. In this acclaimed performance at the Vienna State Opera, director Sven-Eric Bechtolf shifts the action from 1860, when the work was written, to the 1920s, both eras that witnessed a massive economic crisis.
The impoverished Count Waldner is afraid of the uncertain future: financial ruin and the descent of his noble family into social oblivion. In order to avoid this at the last moment, the youngest of his eligible daughters – since he can't afford a second dowry– poses as a boy. The plan is to find a wealthy suitor for Arabella, the older sister, in order to save the family. The handsome landowner Mandryka appears to be just the ticket. A series of misunderstandings, framed by perfect scenery and finely nuanced characterisations by all the protagonists, each portraying his or her own personal fears, brings the proceedings to a humorous happy end, with two couples destined for love marriages.
Emily Magee debuted to great acclaim in the role at the Vienna State Opera. Genia Kühmeier as her little sister Zdenka transfigures the role with her lyrically expressive soprano voice, first in the guise of an endearing young lad and then as an incipient rival to her older sister. She is ably supported by the splendidly radiant tenor voice of Michael Schade as the young officer Matteo. Conductor Franz Welser-Möst lends the brilliant tone colours of Strauss's music a decidedly Viennese character with the result that the audience enjoys a production that is one of the brightest gems in Strauss's opera oeuvre and an experience perhaps only to be encountered in Vienna.