German conductor, Marc Albrecht, noted interpreter of Strauss operas, leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus and cast, in his debut performance in the United States this week, directing the Company’s new production of Richard Strauss’ romantic opera, Arabella.
This tale of love, mistaken identity and near-catastrophe, stars soprano Ellie Dehn in her role debut as Arabella, the beautiful girl whom it is hoped will marry well and save her family from poverty. Soprano Heidi Stober is her sister Zdenka, forced to take on the identity of a brother in order to help the family finances, and Swedish tenor Daniel Johansson – in his Company debut – is Matteo, the object of Zdenka’s desire. Baritone Brian Mulligan makes his role debut as Count Mandryka.
Chief Conductor of the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam, the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra, Marc Albrecht is highly regarded as a conductor of the late Romantic German and Austrian repertoire, yet he also covers the entire spectrum from Mozart to contemporary music. Maestro Albrecht is a regular collaborator with Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and Deutsche Oper Berlin, and has led most of Strauss’ stage works in Dresden, where more than half of the Strauss operas were premiered. Albrecht’s engagements for this 2018/19 season include appearances at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and the Hessische Staatstheater in Wiesbaden.
Production of Arabella is by English stage director, Tim Albery, making his San Francisco Opera debut, who updates this Viennese love story from 1860 to the period just before World War I. Albery’s international work includes Berlioz’s Les Troyens and Wagner’s Tannhäuser for Lyric Opera of Chicago, Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lehár’s The Merry Widow for Metropolitan Opera, Verdi’s Don Carlo for Washington National Opera / Opera Philadelphia, Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra and Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos for Bavarian State Opera, Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini for Netherlands Opera, and Catalani’s La Wally for the Bregenz Festival.
Arabella represents the final collaboration between Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who together produced a number of operas between during the first part of the 20th century. The most successful of these were Elektra in 1909, Der Rosenkavalier in 1911 and Die Frau one Schatten in 1910. Towards the end of the 1920s, Strauss was keen to repeat the formula, urging von Hofmannsthal to collaborate with him on “a second Rosenkavalier”, and although a degree of tension had existed between the two artists for a number of years prior to this, von Hofmannsthal nevertheless complied with Strauss’s request and started work on a libretto for Arabella in 1929.
By July, the first act had been completed, and the following two had been provisionally set, but the librettist died suddenly that month, and Strauss was so deeply affected by the loss of his friend and collaborator, that he put the work aside, and didn’t return to it until 1932, leaving the second and third acts as von Hofmannsthal had left them. Arabella premiered at Semperoper in Dresden in 1933.
The story of Arabella revolves around the need of the heroine’s family for her to marry a wealthy man. Nevertheless, she longs for true love, convinced that she’ll know when the right man comes along. Arabella’s father invites his old friend Count Mandryka to visit Vienna, in the hope that a match can be made with Arabella. To the father’s surprise, however, the man who arrives is the old Count’s nephew, who has inherited his uncle’s wealth and title following his death. Arabella does indeed fall for the young Count, as he does for her, but a case of mistaken identity – involving a plot by Zdenka to gain the attentions of the young officer Matteo – almost destroys Arabella’s chances. For a time it appears as though her hopes of love will be dashed, but finally her sister confesses, and amidst her apologies and explanations, the mystery is finally unraveled.
Korean soprano Hye Jung Lee, in a role debut, is the Fiakermilli, Count Waldner is sung by baritone Richard Paul Fink, and mezzo-soprano Michaela Martens is Adelaide. Tenor Scott Quinn takes the role of Count Elemer, Andrew Manea is Count Dominik, Christian Pursell is Count Lamoral (both are current Adler Fellows) and mezzo-soprano Jill Grove is the Fortune-Teller.
Sets and costumes are by production designer Tobias Hoheisel and the lighting designer is David Finn.
Marc Albrecht leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, Chorus (director Ian Robertson) and cast in this co-production with Santa Fe Opera, Minnesota Opera and Canadian Opera Company.
Arabella – sung in German with English supertitles – runs from October 16th to November 3rd at the War Memorial Opera House. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Opera program notes