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R. STRAUSS: Arabella

spacer Fleming, Müller, Beňačková; 
Hampson, Behle, Dohmen; Sächsischer 
Staatsopernchor Dresden, Staatskapelle Dresden, Thielemann. Production: 
Klepper. C Major 717208 (2 DVDs) or 717304 (Blu-ray), 169 mins., subtitled


At this production from the 2014 Salzburg Easter Festival, Christian Thielemann’s Staatskapelle Dresden was in its second spring as resident orchestra, having replaced the Berlin Philharmonic. As with the 2011 Thielemann–Vienna Philharmonic Frau ohne Schatten video, also from the Grosses Festspielhaus, the conducting is charged and the playing beautiful, so ravishing that one revels even in Arabella’s allegedly arid stretch from the middle of Act II through most of Act III. Thielemann makes a few small cuts there, but he keeps the sisters’ essential exchange beginning “Zdenkerl, du bist die Bess’re von uns zweien,” which was cut in his 1994 Met video.

Renée Fleming, as Arabella, and Thomas Hampson, as Mandryka, are in good late-career form, their voices less full than before but their intelligence, musicianship, phrasing, acting and looks carrying the day. Fleming still spins out lovely lines in the role that perhaps best suits her artistry and temperament. The urbane Hampson can’t help softening Mandryka’s wild side and makes him unusually tender and sensitive. Hanna-Elisabeth Müller is a dream Zdenka, deeply moving, fully believable as boy and girl, her bright, open sound pinging off Fleming’s covered tones, the contrast perfectly expressing that of the sisters — one daring, one circumspect. Daniel Behle is a winningly reckless Matteo with stirring high notes. Add a Wotan as Count Waldner (Albert Dohmen), a beloved veteran as his wife (Gabriela Beňačková), a formidable Fortune-Teller (Jane Henschel), a flamboyant Fiakermilli (Daniela Fally) and solid singers as the three counts who are Arabella’s suitors.

Florentine Klepper’s staging and Martina Segna’s drab sets scarcely conceal the seediness of Arabella’s marriage-market milieu. The Waldners’ hotel suite, a living room flanked by bedrooms, has cracks in the walls. The cabbies’ formal wear is the best money can rent, but their ball has tacky irruptions. During the Arabella–Mandryka duet, their dreamed-of wedding is enacted in a sappy upstage pantomime. When Zdenka gives Matteo the key to “Arabella’s room,” the Fortune-Teller thrusts out the telltale tarot card, and soon Mandryka sees sinister masked men dangling keys. A blowup doll, a dessert in the mold of a woman’s body and a hot-to-trot Fiakermilli in riding pants (with whip) call to mind the librettist Hofmannsthal’s letter to Strauss stressing the vulgarity of it all. The end is refreshing: instead of a planned act weighted with sentiment and symbolism, Arabella’s offering Mandryka the glass of water is spontaneous and simple. spacer 


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