Lucia Popp, Berndt Weikl, Julie Kaufmann,
Peter Seiffert, Wolfgang Sawallisch
Arabella, Op. 79, is a lyric comedy or opera in three acts by Richard Strauss to a German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, their sixth and last operatic collaboration.
It is often said that late Richard Strauss is not so good as early or middle Richard Strauss. For instance, Der Rosenkavalier, produced in 1911, when the composer was forty-seven, is his greatest operatic success. Arabella, produced twenty-one years later, is not nearly so popular. A comparison is inevitable, for both operas are comedies, both are laid in Vienna (though almost one hundred years apart in time), both deal with what we may call upper-middle-class love, both are famous for waltzes, and both call for a pretty soprano to dress up as a young man.
It was first performed on 1 July 1933 at the Dresden Sächsisches Staatstheater. The opera received its premiere in the UK on 17 May 1934 at London's Royal Opera House. Two decades later, on 10 February 1955, it was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York with Eleanor Steber in the title role. The Met has given 58 performances of the work since that date. In 2008, the production by Opera Australia won the Helpmann Award for Best Opera. Productions since 2012 have included performances in Vienna, Tokyo, Paris, Salzburg, Nuremberg, Hamburg, Budapest, Amsterdam, The Santa Fe Opera, Pittsburgh, and Minneapolis.
Opera in three acts by Richard Strauss to a German libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Zdenka, her sister
Count Waldner, their father
Adelaide, their mother
Mandryka, a Croatian landowner
Matteo, a young officer
Count Elemer, one of Arabella's suitors
Count Dominik, another
Count Lamoral, a third
The Fiakermilli, belle of the Coachmen's Ball
Welko, Djura, Jankel, Mandryka's servants
A chaperone, three card players, a doctor, a waiter
Coachmen, waiters, ball guests, hotel residents
Premiere cast, 1 July 1933
Soprano. Elder daughter of Count Waldner and his wife Adelaide, and sister of Zdenka. She is supposed to marry a wealthy man to help her impoverished family, but is determined to wait for ‘Mr Right’ ( der Richtige ). She rejects various counts who are in love with her and dismisses Matteo, a young officer (whom her sister secretly loves). She is attracted by a stranger she sees from the window and wonders if this might be the man she has been waiting for. It is the wealthy Croatian landowner, Mandryka, who has come to woo her, having fallen in love with her photograph. At the annual Cabbies’ Ball, they declare their love for each other and she then goes back to the hotel to rest. Mandryka misunderstands an overheard conversation and thinks she is meeting Matteo, but Zdenka sorts out the situation and Arabella and Mandryka reaffirm their love. Arias: Aber der Richtige (‘But the right one’); Mein Elemer! (‘My Elemer!’); Das war sehr gut, Mandryka (‘It’s a good thing, Mandryka’); duet (with Mandryka): Und du wirst mein Gebieter sein (‘And you will be my lord'). Created (1933) by Viorica Ursuleac. Among the most famous singers of this enchanting role are Lotte Lehmann, Margarete Teschemacher, Maria Reining, Maria Cebotari, Lisa Della Casa, Eleanor Steber, Gundula Janowitz, Caterina Ligendza, Lucia Popp, Felicity Lott, Ashley Putnam, Julia Varady, Kiri te Kanawa, Karita Mattila, and OrlaBoylan—a veritable galaxy of Strauss sopranos.
Soprano. Younger daughter of Count Waldner and Adelaide, sister of Arabella. She is kept dressed as a boy (Zdenko) to avoid the expense of ‘bringing her out’. She is very close to her sister, but is in love with Matteo, a young officer who is in love with Arabella. She writes love‐letters to Matteo, signing them as if from Arabella and causes great complications by arranging for Matteo to have the key to Arabella's room and then taking her place in the darkened bedroom. Zdenka is a delightful character, whose efforts to do her selfless best for everyone have disastrous results, sorted out only when she confesses what she has done and is revealed to one and all as a girl, not the boy they have always thought her to be. She is comforted by Arabella and forgiven by them all, as Matteo realizes that this is the person he really loves. Aria: Sie wollen alle Geld! (‘They all want money!’); (with ens.) Papa! Mama! (‘Papa! Mama!’). Created (1933) by Margit Bokor. Among notable singers of this role are Trude Eipperle, Lisa Della Casa, Hilde Gueden, Anneliese Rothenberger, Sona Ghazarian, Marie McLaughlin, and Barbara Bonney.
Graf (Count) Theodor. Bar. Father of Arabella and Zdenka and husband of Adelaide. He gambles heavily, leaving his family impoverished. He sends Arabella's photograph to a wealthy old army fellow‐officer in the hope that he would want to marry her. However, he has died and it is his nephew, Mandryka, who turns up to see the young lady in the photograph. Waldner lets it be known that he has a cash shortage, and is delighted when Mandryka produces a large wad of notes and suggests that Waldner help himself. Created ( 1933 ) by Friedrich Plaschke.
Waldner, Grafin (Countess) Adelaide. Mezzo-soprano. Wife of Count Waldner and mother of Arabella and Zdenka. She is still young at heart and not above a little flirtation herself. At the ball she is quite happy to point out to one of Arabella's rejected suitors, Count Dominik, that, with her elder daughter married, she herself will often be alone in the future. Created (1933) by Camilla Kallab.
Baritone. A wealthy Croatian landowner, a big bear of a man whose uncle, also called Mandryka, was Count Waldner's best friend in his regiment many years ago, and it was to him that Waldner sent his daughter Arabella's photograph in the hope that the elderly man would want to marry her and save Waldner from his impecunious state. When the letter arrived in Croatia, the older man was dead and his nephew fell in love with the beautiful girl in the picture. He has come to ask for her hand in marriage. Mandryka explains all this to Waldner, and also tells him how rich he is. He tactfully suggests that maybe Waldner could use some ready cash at the moment—Teschek, bedien’ dich! (‘Pray help yourself’), he says, offering high-value notes one after the other. Waldner, of course, cannot resists this generosity, and agrees to introduce Mandryka to Arabella. They meet at the annual Cabbies’ Ball and there is an immediate mutual attraction. After they declare their love, Arabella says she will spend the rest of the evening bidding farewell to her girlhood, dancing with her old friends, before settling down with Mandryka. Later in the evening, Mandryka overhears her ‘brother’ Zdenka arranging for a young officer, Matteo, to have the key for Arabella's room that night. Overcome with distress, he provides champagne for all the guests, drinks rather too much himself, and flirts with the cabbies’ mascot (the Fiakermilli). He returns to the hotel with Arabella's parents, and accuses Arabella of being unfaithful to him. Zdenka, now revealed as the girl she really is, confesses that it is she who has been responsible for the mix-up and that it was all done for love. Everyone is forgiven and united with the one they love. The family all retire, either to bed, or to play cards. Mandryka remains in the hotel foyer, thankful that everything has worked out satisfactorily. Suddenly, down the stairs comes Arabella, carrying a glass of water to give to him—an old Croatian tradition to signify the end of her girlhood. He drinks from the glass and then destroys it so that no one else can ever drink from the same glass. Thus their love is sealed. Aria: Der Onkel ist dahin (‘My uncle is no more’); Ich habe eine Frau gehabt (‘I had a wife’); duet (with Arabella): Und du wirst mein Gebieter sein (‘And you will be my lord’); Die Herren und Damen sind einstweilen meine Gäste! (‘The ladies and gentlemen are meanwhile my guests!’); Sie gibt mir keinen Blick (‘She doesn't look at me’). Created (1933) by Alfred Jerger. Other famous interpreters include Alexander Kipnis, Hans Hotter, George London, Paul Schöffler, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Bernd Weikl, and Wolfgang Brendel.
Tenop. A young officer in love with Arabella. She has no time for or patience with him. In an effort to be nearer to her, he befriends her ‘brother’ Zdenko (in reality her sister, Zdenka) who is herself secretly in love with Matteo. Matteo receives love-letters purporting to come from Arabella and believes that she returns his love (they are in fact written by Zdenka) and this is confirmed when Zdenko gives him a key to Arabella's room so that he can meet her that night. Unknown to Matteo, the lady he meets in the darkened bedroom is Zdenka. As he leaves her room and comes down the stairs in the hotel, whom does he meet just coming into the hotel but Arabella who, of course, denies having just been with him in her bedroom. Total confusion reigns until Zdenka, in her nightdress and every bit a young woman, runs downstairs to confess what she has done. Matteo realizes that this is the young lady he really loves and her parents give them their blessing. The role has been sung by Anton Dermota, Horst Taubmann, Adolf Dallapozza, Georg
Paskuda, and Rene Kollo. Created (1933) by Martin Kremer.
Tenor. One of three Counts in love with Arabella. He is probably the one of whom she is most fond, and she agrees to go for a sleighride with him—but only on condition that her ‘brother Zdenko’, comes with them. He is eventually rejected by her in favour of Mandryka. Created (1933) by Karl Albrecht‐Streib.
Baritone. One of three Counts in love with, but rejected by, Arabella. Her mother is quite happy to flirt with the young count, who tells her she is more beautiful than her daughter. Created (1933) by Kurt Böhme.
Bass. One of three Counts in love with Arabella. Created (1933) by Arno Schellenberg.
Soprano. The mascot at the Cabbies’ Ball in Vienna. Mandryka flirts with her when he believes Arabella to be unfaithful. She sings a florid coloratura aria, embellished with much yodelling, requiring vocal flexibility and control. Aria: Die Wiener Herrn verstehn sich auf die Astronomie (‘The gentlemen of Vienna understand about astronomy’). This role has been outstandingly sung in recent years by Edita Gruberova, Lillian Watson, Natalie Dessay, Inger Dam Jensen, and Diana Damrau. Created (1933) by Ellice Illiard.
Soprano. As the opera opens, Adelaide, Arabella's mother, is consulting the Fortune‐Teller, who tells her that her husband will lose more money by gambling. However, she can see in the cards that a stranger is soon coming, from a great distance, and will want to marry Arabella. This is a cameo role which several famous sopranos, well past the prime of their career, have been happy to sing, including Martha Mödl. Created (1933) by Jessyka Koettrik.
In a hotel in Vienna
The story takes place in the Vienna of i860. An impoverished ex-army officer, Count Waldner, has brought his family to a hotel suite in Vienna, hoping that by gambling or by marrying off his elder daughter advantageously he may recoup his fortune. This elder daughter is Arabella, and it takes money to keep her in clothes and to exhibit her at dances. That is why the younger daughter, Zdenka, is disguised as a boy and known as Zdenko. It’s cheaper that way.
All this necessary background we learn during the opening domestic scene that takes place in the living room of the expensively furnished hotel suite occupied by the Waldner family. The Count’s wife, Adelaide, is having her fortune told, and little Zdenka skillfully handles some dunning tradesmen.
When Zdenka is left alone, one of Arabella’s most eligible and most ardent suitors comes to call. His name is Matteo, a gallant Italian officer, and he confides in the girl he would like to think of as his future sister-in-law. He tells her that if he had not had a truly wonderful letter from Arabella a couple of days ago, he would be on the verge of suicide. Arabella, it seems, has not even looked at him for days on end. He leaves a bouquet of flowers for his beloved, and when he is gone, we leam the true state of affairs from Zdenka’s soliloquy. Secretly she is herself in love with Matteo, and it is she who has written that “truly wonderful” letter to him, letting him think it came from her sister.
But Matteo is clearly not the “right man” for Arabella. We leam her thoughts on this subject—and several others—in a long duet between the two sisters, one of the finest passages in the score. She thinks, rather, that the right man may be a mysterious fellow she has never met but only seen a number of times around the hotel. Zdenka loyally urges the suit of Mat-teo, and Arabella, just as loyally, urges Zdenka to doff her disguise and get herself a man. Then Arabella muses about redly falling in love. “And when the right one comes . . . neither of us will doubt it for a moment,” sings Arabella. Her tune (an old Croatian one) starts with the four notes of the familiar tune we know as “How Dry I Am.” After the duet the girls leave to get Arabella ready for a sleigh ride.
Now, their father, Count Waldner, has had no luck with his gambling. As a last resort he has written a letter to a wealthy old friend, a bachelor named Mandryka. He hopes Mandryka will come through with a loan, and, as a sort of encouragement, he has enclosed a picture of Arabella. What Waldner does not know is that his old friend is dead and that his name and all his wealth have gone to a nephew, a tall, dark, handsome young man. This younger Mandryka has fallen in love with Arabella's picture, has come to Vienna to meet her, and is about to call on her papa.
Mandryka, a strange, formal sort of gentleman, tells Waldner he has sold a forest for this journey; he implies that he is practically ready to marry Arabella; and he offers—in the politest way possible—to lend Waldner a couple of thousand-florin notes. He then retires, saying that he will call formally upon the ladies later in the day. Waldner is delighted; he can scarcely believe his good luck; he shows off his new-found wealth, first to a waiter of the hotel and then to little Zdenka.
Arabella is now ready for her sleigh ride, and she thinks over the men she does not want to marry—including the fellow who is about to take her out. And (as the orchestra plays the melody of “the right man”) she thinks about the mysterious stranger. He is—as the listener might guess, but as Arabella has no way of knowing—none other than Mandryka. Meantime, Arabella thinks of the ball at which she will be queen tonight. The strains of a Viennese waltz are heard, and the act closes as she goes off with her sister, Zdenka.
In a ballroom
The second act takes place the same evening, at a big ball. Arabella is the queen of that ball, turning down suitor after suitor who asks for a dance. But then she meets Mandryka. At once she recognizes him as “the right man,” and he proposes marriage even more promptly than Romeo did to Juliet. In fact, their meeting at a ball, their falling in love at first sight, and their ardent first duet are in many ways parallel to the great passage from Shakespeare.
After their duet Arabella leaves Mandryka for the time being, claiming that she wishes to say farewell to her youth, to all the things that made up her girlhood. Together with an overdressed coquette known as the “Fiakermilli” (who sings her a brilliant polka) Arabella is the cynosure of all eyes. She bids farewell to each of three noble suitors, but the fourth suitor, Matteo, is desperate. Zdenka, still disguised as a boy, fears that her loved one may commit suicide, as he has threatened. She therefore presents him a key, with the implication that it comes from Arabella; and she says definitely that it will admit him to the room of the one who sent it. Mandryka, unfortunately, overhears this conversation, and he believes that Arabella is already planning to betray him. Cynically he calls for wine and gaiety; he flirts with the Fiakermilli; he invites the coachman to drink champagne; and at the end of the act he leaves angrily for his hotel.
A lobby in the hotel
Back at the hotel Matteo discovers he has been tricked. His rendezvous has been with Zdenka, not with Arabella. But when he sees Zdenka—now with her hair down, a beautiful girl, and one who really loves him—he is happy. He forgets Arabella.
As for Mandryka and Arabella—well, that misunderstanding is now also cleared up. She offers him a drink. If he smashes the glass, that is a symbol of their engagement. Of course, he does smash it; of course, he takes her in his arms; and of course, they kiss. As the curtain goes down, she breaks away from him and trips up to her room. Tomorrow is another day.