Saturday, 10 September 2011

Arabella, surprisingly engaged

Wiener Staatsoper, 08/09/2011
Anne Schwanewilms | Arabella
Genia Kühmeier | Zdenka
Tomasz Konieczny | Mandryka
Michael Schade | Matteo
Lars Woldt | Waldner
Zoryana Kushpler | Adelaide
Gergely Németi | Elemér
Adam Plachetka | Dominik
Sorin Coliban | Lamoral
Julia Novikova | Fiakermilli
Donna Ellen | Kartenaufschlägerin

Franz Welser-Möst | Conductor
Sven-Eric Bechtolf | Director

I didn’t expect to post about this Thursday’s Arabella. GMD Franz Welser-Möst, more unflappable than most, had replaced the ailing Philippe Auguin despite rehearsing and conducting a Wiener Staatsoper Fidelio Gastspiel at La Scala on Wednesday and Friday respectively, though when is he ever more than a pair of safe hands? Director Sven-Eric Bechtolf is too preoccupied with staging Vicki Baum’s Menschen im Hotel to bother much with Hofmannsthal’s Arabella, and the casting didn’t promise much out of the ordinary. So not exactly the makings of one of those serendipitous Staatsoper occasions where singing and playing come together in inverse proportion to rehearsal time. And yet that was what we got, at least with all of the playing and some of the singing.

Stepping in at the last minute for Adrianne Pieczonka, Anne Schwanewilms was as exemplary an Einspringerin as one could hope for under the circumstances. She didn’t always project evenly throughout her register and glossed over much of the text, but there were many moments where she soared, in particular her ‘Richtige’ duet, which came something close to stunning. Praise here should also be heaped on Genia Kühmeier, her elegant phrasing, and simply exquisite Straussian tone.

A bass-baritone Mandryka is probably an experiment that should not be repeated, as least not with Tomasz Konieczny, who possesses a ringing lower register authoritative enough to bring down Valhalla and a range above E4 that sounds squeezed and thin. Lars Woldt bore the brunt of Bechtolf’s more sustained efforts at Personenregie, which extend to little more than farce. But that is no excuse for a North Rhine-Westphalian to sing in distended Wienerisch (‘Werd i drei Tog long koan Koarten hoalten’), as Ochsian a figure as Waldner may be. Julia Novikova seems to have acquired astonishing vocal power over the summer at the expense of what little precision she had; notes were scattered in all sorts of random directions, and with some force.

Despite these three and Michael Schade’s unmemorable Matteo – admittedly a fair chunk of the opera – this performance came to considerably more than the sum of its parts, possibly due to the presence of a genuine Wiener Philharmoniker in the pit. This wasn’t just a case of dependably rich string tone carrying the day: the score sounded thoroughly internalised with no detail left unaccounted for, and the singers were never overpowered, which must be something of a Straussian first for this house. It was even better than June’s Káťa Kabanová, when the orchestra last excelled itself.

Staatsoper Direktor Dominique Meyer has signalled that we may yet look forward to more playing of this calibre in the upcoming Thielemann Ring. For more details, and the real motivation behind the Staatsoper’s new Liederabende, see his interview here.


  1. As a whole I thought it came off much better than in March. Pity about the worsened Mandryka situation.