Zur Oper am 29. Januar 1965 in London
The Sunday Times, 31. Januar 1965
Arabella emerges from the shadows
The Hartmann/Solti revival of Strauss’s Arabella, which received its first performance on Friday, is an exquisitely finished piece of theatrical and musical art; so far as opera can ever be perfect, it is perfect. […]
"Arabella" as now on view at Covent Garden, is the very opposite of a star vehicle with shaky support from the home team. It is a unity, the real thing from first to last: from Arabella herself to the exquisite frist oboe who plays her on to the stage, from the fiery Mandryka to the wonderfully respectable and stiff-jointed hotel porter of the last act (unnamed in the programme) who, with perfect gravity, adjusts the establishment’s complicated lighting apparatur to suit the fluctuating needs of its vociferous and quarrelsome clientele.
This beautifully high finish on the performance naturally places the opera itself, in the most favourable light, and shows it for the extremely accomplished creation that it is. There are flaws in it, of course. After the perfectly shaped first act which Hofmannsthal remodelled just before his death, and to which Strauss responded with a rich flow of invention and a civilised touch worthy of his poet, and after the no less admirable opening scene of the second act, the level undeniably drops with the entrance of the yodelling Fiakermilli, and does not wholly recover until near the end. But how small these weaknesses are made to appear in such a performance as this, and how much more important the music’s resourcefulness and beauty!
The multifarius strands of Strauss’s golden score were so cunningly handled by Dr. Solti that the supremacy of the voices was seldom disturbed. And his voices were worthy of such care! Even if, after many years as the ideal Arabella, Lisa della Casa’s upper register is no longer as radiant as before, she never sings an ugly note, and her style remains uncommonly delicate and smooth. She gives us, to perfection, the precociously nature girl with an ironical outlook on life tempered by a natural gaiety and a barely concealed warmth of heart. As for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, he might have been created by an opera-loving deity for the express purpose of embodying Herr von Mandryka, the great landowner from far Slavonia, impulsive, naïve, solemn, lovable, at times a trifle absurd. And then, from time to time, some great arching phrase fills the theatre and conveys the man’s essential goodness and truth. A superb impersonation.
If Mandryka’s two big scenes with Arabella were memorably beautiful, his opening episode with Count Waldner was a masterpiece of another sort, both comical and touching – thanks in large part to the splendidly ripe and seedy Waldner of Michael Langdon. As Arabella’s feather-headed mama Josephine Veasey was as dempendable as ever; and in the very difficult role of Zdenka, the younger sister disguised (for economic reasons) as a boy, Joan Carlyle scored a triumph, her clear soprano soaring over and blending perfectly with that of Lisa della Casa. As young Matteo, Alexander Young was hampered by a wooden and middleaged make-up. But this was an exceptional slip; Peter Rice’s lovingly elaborated sets and handsome costumes showed in general a happy sense of period and of the appropriate style.
Yet there is a strange tendency among the very best of producers and designers to exaggerate, rather than minimise, those little improbabilities in which opera abounds. Examples turned up last week at both houses. At Covent Garden Messrs Hartmann and Rice, in their anxiety to make Miss Carlyle’s boyish masquerade appear thoroughly plausible, perversely ordain that her hair shall be worn longer than that of any indubitably male character in sight.
The Observer, 31. Januar 1965
"A light opera … almost an operetta … which in gaiety does not fall short of ‘Fledermaus’ is kindred to ‘Rosenkavalier’…" Thus Hofmannsthal, at the beginning of his correspondence with Strauss about their last joint creation, Arabella – which, on Friday, was presented at Covent Garden in a new production by Rudolf Hartmann and superbly conducted by Georg Solti.
The music for Arabella and her sister in the first act, Arabella’s monologue at the end of it, the big duet between Arabella and Mandryka in Act 2, and their final reconciliation and betrothal at the end of the opera – all these are most touchingly and delicately done. I can see why some people dismiss this opera as nothing but one shower of golden rain after another; yet it seems to me that the best parts of it are completely successful because Strauss and Hofmannsthal believed wholeheartedly in the dramatic truth of the proposition that a man and woman can fall in love, romantically and forever, at first sight.
Certainly, I cannot imagine a more radiant representation of the encounter than that at Covent Garden between Lisa della Casa and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. She, like Brouwenstijn, has the power to move one simply by walking on to the stage: every gesture, every look, tells us something more about the character. And Fischer-Dieskau, in warm, winey voice, exactly embodies that alien, coherent personality that attracts Arabella when she first meets Mandryka.
Joan Carlyle – always at her best in trouser roles – is a charming Zdenka; the supporting parts are, in general, stylishly sung and acted; while Solti conjures such delicate, fragrant textures from the orchestra that he makes most of the score sound like expanded chamber music. I wish Mr. Rice’s designs had been as pretty to look at as the orchestra was to listen to.
Sunday Telegraph, Datum unbekannt
Love Conquers All
If only Strauss’s Arabella lived up to the promise of its first act!
As the characters begin to develop before us – the superficial Waldner and his gambling, Arabella’s womanly poise, the intense young Mandryka, Zdenka touchingly repressing her femininity in her force male disguise – so it seems that the elegance of "Der Rosenkavalier" may be recaptured. The manner is lighter, more urbane, but the invention promises well; and the whirling motives in the orchestra make points with no fuss and a pleasant sophistication.
And then the whole sentimental comedy begins to ring hollow. It is a love story with an entirely artificial impediment dragged in to sustain drama and simply to pad the plot out – there is neither comedy nor inevitability nor real credibility in the rather distasteful charade whereby Zdenka pretends to be Arabella and admits one of her suitors to her bed, thus causing such misery to Arabella’s true suitor, Mandryka. The whole artifice, which depends on just remaining in balance, tumbles down, and the invention with it into routine.
But what routine, the Strauss-lover rhapsodises! Like an agnostic among believers last Friday at Covent Garden, I envied the possession of faith and all the unquestioned comfort it brings. Alas, the more superbly the ritual is celebrated and the higher the bliss of the worshippers, the further one is from grace.
Can it be, I felt, peering in as if through a leper’s slit, that the most ardent worshipper accepts the tinsel of the ball or senses no difference between "Rosenkavalier’s" close and the feebleness of this ending?
The work could scarcely have had a better chance. I gather it is not for want of trying that Covent Garden has only now persuaded Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to sing here. He bestrode the performance. Familiar as an artist of high seriousness, he also has almost all the lightness for Mandryka; and his seriousness rounds the rich young farmer’s character – naturally aristocratic but without big city graces, guileless and ardent, easily affronted but never thrown from dignity.
He an Georg Solti were in ideal partnership, for the sensuous slenderness of the orchestral sound – this is a silken score to "Rosenkavalier’s" velvet – craves just such richness as its centre and indeed raison d’être. Solti’s leaping rhythms and catlike elegance of phrase can hardly be improved upon: he senses the swift pace of the work beneath the elaborate textures, offers total belief in the weariest gesture, points the rapidly passing hints in the motives.
Lisa della Casa did not match this dusky bloom of sound. But if the voice is now, perhaps inevitably, less radiant in quality, less ravishingly feminine, she feels the curve and dip and arch of Strauss’s lines instinctively, and the effect is maintained with a professionalism over which he would have smiled gratefully.
Apart from Alexander Young, ill at ease in one of Strauss’s underprivileged tenor roles, the company was in no way outsung and indeed comfortably at home in Rudolf Hartmann’s straight-forward, well deployed production. Josephine Veasey made an amusing fuss-pot mum of Adelaide; and Joan Carlyle – one of her best performances – brought Zdenka’s touching qualities through the charade and worthily held the centre of the stage in the last act.
OPERA, London, Vol. 16, No. 3, March 1965
Covent Garden, January 29
We have had to wait for more than five years to hear Georg Solti conduct a Strauss opera in London - that is, since his début in December 1959, when his guest appearances conducting the Schwarzkopf-Jurinac-Steffek-Böhme Der Rosenkavalier led to his being invited to become Covent Garden’s musical director. Writing about that revival I noted Solti drew some magnificent playing from the orchestra, that there were some wonderful sonorities, rather lacking in recent Strauss performances in London, and some sensuous playing, but that tenderness was lacking. One certainly could not complain on this count as far as Arabella was concerned, for Solti drew some of the most ravishing sound from his orchestra heard in recent years at Covent Garden, and faithfully captured the tender, nostalgic moods of the piece. Seldom have I known Solti so solicitous of his singers, and the almost magic mood he evoked in the second-act duet between Arabella and Mandryka was something to treasure.
Rudolf Hartmann and Solti have between them given us an integrated performance of German opera that ranks with the famous Giulini-Visconti Don Carlos. How admirable a ‘traditional’ production can be in the hands of an expert like Rudolf Hartmann! and how wonderful that he can find fresh aspects to bring out in a piece that he has produced countless times before. How skilfully he handled the complicated crowd szene in Act 2, and conjured up the atmosphere of that Viennese hotel in Act 3: and how admirably our native artists responded to his firm and knowledgeable direction. And how gratifying that at last a Britisch designer, Peter Rice, was invited to design a major new production, even if one had some slight reservations about the clash of colours.
Lisa Della Casa and Arabella have become synonymous in our day - she was singing her 100th performance of the role on February 10 - far more so than Lotte Lehmann who could not have sung more than 20 performances of the role in her whole career, despite what the generally reliable William Mann writes in the introduction to his excellent synopsis in the Covent Garden programme. […] Miss Della Casa, looking just as beautiful and ravishing as she did in 1953, can still portray the young girl to perfection. She was in far better voice than at any time I have heard her in recent years, and can still spin out a Strauss phrase with cool, cream-like tones; but she was obviously saving her voice in the first two acts, and there were one or two moments of near-inaudibility. Yet in the last act she came fully into her own, and as she descended the stairs with that glass of water between her hands and the words ‘Das war sehr gut, Mandryka’ on her lips, it was not only Mandryka’s heart that melted.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s Mandryka I had been lucky enough to have seen on the stage in Munich some years back, and today it is better than ever. One cannot imagine that the part has ever been better sung or acted. The assurance with which he dominates the stage reminds one of a young Hotter, and he colours his words and phrases with the skill and subtlety one would expect from a great lieder singer. Let us hope that at last having got to Covent Garden he will become a regular visitor here.
H. D. R.
"Arabella" in London
Unter der musikalischen Leitung von Georg Solti hat Covent Garden eine von der strengen englischen Kritik und dem Premierenpublikum gleichermaßen gefeierte Aufführung von "Arabella" von Richard Strauss gebracht. Es war die erste Darbietung der Oper in London seit dem Gastspiel der Bayerischen Staatsoper vor 12 Jahren. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, als Liedersänger in London beliebt, stellte sich in der Rolle des Mandryka zum erstenmal auch in England als Opernsänger vor und verdiente sich voll das enthusiastische Lob des "Times"-Rezensenten: "Als der Mandryka unser Traum, der wie ein Gott singt, unendlich feinfühlig abgestimmt auf alle Wendungen, stark in der Liebe, feurig in der Eifersucht, zerknirscht in der Demütigung und von Erleichterung überwältigt, wenn ihm schließlich verziehen wird."
Lisa della Casa war in strahlender Form die junge Arabella. Rudolf Hartmann brachte seine lange Erfahrung in der Inszenierung dieser Oper nach London und konnte einige frische Elemente zur Darstellung beitragen. Von Peter Rice wurden extravagante Kostüme und eine eindrucksvolle Ballszene im 2. Akt entworfen. Solti verstand es, Orchester und Sänger zu Bestleistungen anzufeuern.