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Richard Strauss: Arabella
Richard [1] Strauss, Joseph Keilberth, Bavarian State Opera Orchestra
Richard Strauss: Arabella
Genre: Classical


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Famous performance re-issued at bargain price
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 05/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Source: Live August 1963 performance by the Bavarian State Opera, recorded at the Nationaltheater in Munich in August 1963. First issued on Lp by Deutsche Grammophon in 1964.

Sound: The fame of this performance rests on the presence of its two great stars, Lisa Della Casa and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Their voices are very well caught and reproduced. Because of the technological limitations of the time and the general difficulty of capturing any live opera performance before an audience, the excellent Bavarian State Opera Orchestra is not as well served as the singers. Overall sound is good but not quite up to capturing all the lushness and subtlety of this late Straussian score. The Bavarian audience is remarkably disciplined, disclosing its presence only by applause at appropriate times.

Cast: Graf Waldner, retired cavalry officer and luckless gambler - Karl Christian Kohn; Adelaide, his wife - Ira Malaniuk; Arabella, their elder daughter - Lisa Della Casa; Zdenka / Zdenko, their younger daughter, sometimes disguised as a male servant - Anneliese Rothenberger; Mandryka, a rich and therefore highly eligible bachelor from the countryside - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; Matteo, a cavalryman who thinks he's in love with Arabella - Georg Paskuda; Graf Elerner, suitor to Arabella - Fritz Uhl; Graf Dominik, suitor to Arabella - Carl Hoppe; Graf Lamoral, suitor to Arabella - Horst Guenter; Die Flakermilli, mascot of the Viennese cabmen - Eva Maria Rogner; A Fortune Teller - Caecilie Reich; Welko, Mandryka's valet: Walther Matthes; Djura, Mandryka's servant - Walter Ehrengut; A Waiter - Walter Carnuth; Three Gamblers - Erich Ringal, Karl Muecke and Matthias Mertes. Conductor: Joseph Keilberth with the Bayerisches Staatsorchester and Bayerischer Staatsopernchor.

Text: "Arabella" premiered in 1933. It was originally set out in three distinct acts but in 1939, largely at the prompting of his friend, the conductor and librettist Clemens Krauss, Strauss made some cuts and changes, the most obvious of which makes the opera flow continuously from Act II into Act III. The production recorded here reflects the 1939, second state of "Arabella." It should be noted that subsequent recordings and performances have tended to close the 1939 cuts and return to the initial text of 1933.

Format: Disk 1 - Act I, tracks 1-16; Act II, tracks 17-20; 80:50. Disk 2 - Act II (continued), tracks 1-10; Act III, tracks 11-22; 78:48.

Documentation: No libretto. Plot synopsis keyed on track listings. Nothing on the opera or the performers. (For those interested in such things, a German language libretto is available on the internet as I write this.)

"Arabella" was the final operatic collaboration of Richard Strauss and his most famous librettist, Hugo von Hoffmannsthal. It is a return to the territory of their greatest joint-triumph, "Der Rosenkavalier," and it might justifiably be described as "Rosenkavalier-lite."

The story is set in Vienna of the 1860s, a place that likely occupied some of Strauss' very earliest memories. A down-at-the-heels Austrian nobleman is attempting to stave off financial disaster by trailing his attractive and marriageable daughter Arabella before the eyes of eligible--that is, wealthy suitors. Unfortunately, he has a second and younger daughter whose presence might complicate matters, so she dresses up as a boy and pretends she is a family servant. Arabella has no difficulty in attracting crowds of suitors, including one dashing young cavalryman whom her younger sister adores, but she finds none of them to be the right man for her. Nevertheless, the two sisters are convinced that Mr. Right is out there, somewhere, and they sing a beautiful duet about him. Now in comes Mandryka, a rough-edged bumpkin from Croatia who has just inherited great wealth and has fallen in love with a picture of Arabella. Confusions and misapprehensions inevitably follow but in the end true love triumphs, sort of. All in all, the story of "Arabella" is very like one of those classy Preston Sturgess Hollywood comedies of the late 1930s, such as "The Lady Eve."

Musically, Strauss is generally in "Rosenkavalier"-mode. While all his skill is still there, the level of intensity and memorability he offers is noticeably lower than it had been in the earlier work. In Act II, everybody turns up at the annual Cabmen's Ball, which provides an opportunity for Richard Strauss to offer up some music in the style of Johann Strauss. Unfortunately, he takes the opportunity. The best that can be said of that passage is that it is short and R. Strauss soon returns to being R. Strauss, much to the relief of all.

The great Swiss soprano Lisa Della Casa simply owned the role of Arabella outright. She can only be described as wonderful here--although some insist that she was not quite what she had been a few years earlier. No-one in the past forty years and more has equaled her. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a great singer and far more at home in this material than in his occasional catastrophic forays into Italian opera. He gives a good performance, but I find him just a little too smooth and polished. Hans Hotter preceded him in the part and would have offered a touch of welcome and intractable granite.

Anneliese Rothenberger is very good as Zdenka/Zdenko, as are Kohn and Malaniuk as her parents. Richard Strauss despised tenors. In general, he didn't waste his time in attempting to write decent music for them. Here, Georg Paskuda, a second-rate tenor, sings Matteo's second-rate music and then is promptly and easily forgotten. The rest of the cast is quite good--except for Eva Maria Rogner who is bloody awful in Strauss' poor imitation of "Der Fledermaus."

Joseph Keilberth was the Rodney Dangerfield of conductors. He just didn't get no respect. The good, grey Gramophone Magazine loftily sniffed that he was "a good routinier but an uninspired conductor." Perhaps so, but I have never heard him conduct an unsatisfactory opera performance. And from this routinier it is always the composer's music that I hear, something not always the case with "inspired" conductors like Karajan and Solti.

This is a good recording of a classic performance with the greatest of all Arabellas. It is offered at a bargain price. Of course it is worth five stars."
Studio is better
Lawrence Rapchak | Whiting, IN United States | 05/16/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)

"I am very aware of the excitement and thrills of live performance as opposed to studio recordings but, in most every way, I think Strauss' operas are better served by the latter.

Strauss's extremely detailed, intricate and precise method of composing for voice and orchestra---especially in his "conversational" style (of which Arabella is chock-full)is SO difficult to keep coordinated between singers and orchestra. With Strauss' continuously shifting harmonies, complex and elaborate orchestral figuration and frequent juxtaposing of
opposing meters, the controlled environment of the studio provides a far-better opportunity for a conductor to coordinate his forces, thus providing a more accurate realization of the score.

This is a round-about way of saying that the 1963 Keilberth Arabella, while certainly a fine achievement by the recording standards of the day,
still obscures much of the detailed interplay between stage and pit, as well as the proper balances within the orchestra. And so the listener's comprehension of Strauss' magnificent mosaic of text and instrumental motif suffers quite a bit.

Lisa Della Casa is (once again) fine in her signature role, though she sounds a bit tired by the opera's final scene.

Sorry to be picky, but this recording really falls down, in my opinion, because of the following:

1.) While I generally admire Keilberth's work, the opening of Act 1 is numbingly slow, thus robbing the scene of the fascinating conversational
pace and intensity that is so important in this score. The opera really sounds D.O.A. in its first 6-7 minutes, which seriously drags the whole first Act down.

2.) Keilberth cuts Act 3 to ribbons---sorry, it's just too much.

3.) I'm an "underdog" kind of guy who usually roots for the unknown singers--but Georg Paskuda as Matteo is just not vocally credible...another real blight on the performance.

4.) Fischer-Dieskau barks and shouts too much of his part---I know he's supposed to be upset but Puh-leeez---the composer wrote actual
PITCHES for the role of Mandryka!

There ARE a lot of wonderful moments in this performance--I think the final Waltz music/coda of Act 1 is really effective---but in general
the recordings conducted by Solti, Sawallisch and Tate are all clearly superior to this one."
A vibrant live Arabella--the one to have
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 10/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I came late to Arabella, which lacks the exotic settings, fairy tale magic, and robustness of Strauss's earlier operatic writing. Its plot is ocnfined to the doubts in love of a modern woman, a far remove from Salome or Elektra. The melodic line is constant--a feature of late Struass--without being memorable except at intervals. But thanks to beautiful protagonists portrayed by Te Kanawa and before her Lisa Della Casa, the opera has considerable charm and appeal. Here we have a vibrant live performance from 1963; the Bavarian State Opera cast could hardly be bettered, or even equalled, today.

Every principal sings with great emotional conviction, particularly Della Case, famed in this role, and Anneliese Rothenberger as her sister Zdenka. Thier vocal tone is rather similar, but this only adds to their marvelous duet singing. Fischer-Dieskau gives us a signature role, and only the Matteo of Georg Paskuda falls a bit short, but this is another of Strauss's taxing tenor roles, more lyrical than Wagnerian but tough nonetheless.

Keilberth conducts very well, with flexibility and refinement--a studio recording could hardly improve on the orchestral part. DG's live stereo, though replete with stage noises and applause, is first rate. In all, I can't imagine needing another Arabella, and given the extra vitality of a stage performance, no studio set that I've come across feels this spontaneous and joyous. Alas, Hoffmansthal's affecting libretto isn't included."