Arabella, Opera by Richard Strauss
Arabella, with its folk melodies, inventive harmonic twists, and modernistic orchestration, is the rare treat that awaits audiences at the Wiener Staatsoper.
The man who composed it, Richard Strauss, was so versatile that it is sometimes difficult to conceive that an opera like Arabella, a delightful light-hearted, albeit heart-felt, Viennese comedy, could have come from the same pen as the one that wrote the tone poem, Also Sprach Zarathustra, the opening bars of which, together with the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, are considered by many to be the most famous in classical music.
The last of Strauss’ six collaborations with the librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arabella is the story of a family that chooses one daughter over another to secure the marriage that will rescue it from financial ruin. Arabella’s sister, Zdenka, however, has plans to find her own match. The only trouble is she is forced to dress like a man since her parents cannot afford to introduce both their girls to Viennese society at one and the same time.
Premiered at the Sächsische Staatsoper in Dresden on 1 July 1933, Arabella is a work of unremitting beauty, written in the spirit of Mozart, but with an interpretation that is clearly Wagnerian, the two great influences on Strauss’ music.
Strauss once said of himself: “I may not be a first-rate composer, but I am a first-class second-rate composer.”: a typically self-deprecating assessment of his own work that belies his talent and musical sincerity. That talent is clearly on display in Arabella, not just in his skill for writing for sopranos, for which he was renowned, but the way in which the soloists’ voices, particularly in the duets, simply melt into one another.