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Pleasing revival: Byström and Volle, Arabella and Mandryka at the Met
© Beatriz Schiller 2014
Strauss and Hofmannsthal's Arabella is by nature a "star vehicle." By the final curtain of the Met's pleasing revival of 1983's lavish traditional staging — devised by Otto Schenk for Kiri Te Kanawa, then at the height of her star power — all present must have been convinced that Malin Byström was a valid and lovely Arabella; her performance will surely raise the artistic profile of the Swedish soprano, previously known locally only for two Marguerites in 2011. A fine and attractive actress, Byström captured Arabella's mix of flirtatiousness and deep moral seriousness right off the bat. Her voice sounded liquid, with a fine sheen and an apt sense of emotional glow; phrasing was admirably legato, never swoony. Though more can be done to project the text, Byström made Arabella's thoughts and feelings clear at all times. Only in the heaviest-set passages might one have asked for more soaring refulgence; but she judged them well, and that dimension may come with time.
Like Lohengrin and Elena Makropulos — two of opera's other outsider roles — Mandryka can be an effective debut role. It served the veteran German baritone Michael Volle well in many respects, showing off his wide range, admirable stamina and committed stage presence. (Stephen Pickover, the director for this revival, let Mandryka's drunken antics soar too far over the top; Volle careened around like Nick Nolte destroying a hotel suite.) Though Volle threw himself into the difficult role, what he lacked here was any sense of youthfulness — not only in looks but, more important, in tone. His singing — which combines a somewhat workaday, nasal timbre and noble phrasing — would be very effective as Hans Sachs and Siegfried's Wanderer. Two other Met debutants, Juliane Banse (Zdenka) and Roberto Saccà (Matteo), are musically worthy artists arriving perhaps too late in these particular roles. Banse's Zdenka fatally lacked ease and breadth in the upper register, which needs crystalline float. Saccà's accurate, tireless traversal of the officer's murderous tessitura was impressive, but his tenor sounded dry.
Martin Winkler made an excellent first impression, his bass almost too plush and healthy for the wastrel Waldner. Catherine Wyn-Rogers's Adelaide was a sound professional job, but — challenged on top and hardly as big a personality as the role needs — seemed yet another mystifying British import. Of the others, Alexey Lavrov's elegant Dominik fared best, along with a clever cameo by Mark Schowalter (Waiter). Philippe Auguin, the sound but unilluminating conductor, might have reined in the ringing but overfreighted Elemer of Brian Jagde, who seemed to be auditioning for Siegfried. Audrey Luna (Fiakermilli) offered energy and an occasional good top note, but a front-line coloratura is needed. Victoria Livengood's Fortuneteller proved unduly raucous. This was Malin Byström's night — and Strauss's.
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