'Arabella' is an operatic romantic comedy

by Rex Levang, Minnesota Public Radio
April 18, 2014
Malin Bystrom as the title character of Strauss's "Arabella." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Michael Volle as Mandryka in Strauss's "Arabella." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Malin Bystrom as the title character of Strauss's "Arabella." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Michael Volle as Mandryka and Malin Bystrom as the title character in Strauss's "Arabella." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Audrey Luna as Fiakermilli in Strauss's "Arabella." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Malin Bystrom as the title character of Strauss's "Arabella." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Michael Volle as Mandryka and Malin Bystrom as the title character in Strauss's "Arabella." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera) Juliane Banse as Zdenka in Strauss's "Arabella." (Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

St. Paul, Minn. — Two sisters who are opposites in many ways are at the center of the opera Arabella. It's the last collaboration of composer Richard Strauss and poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

The title character is a proud beauty who has men chasing after her. She has all the feminine graces expected of a well-born young lady in 1860s Vienna — but she clearly knows her own mind.

Her sister Zdenka is the opposite. (It's a case of going from A to Z — Arabella to Zdenka.) Zdenka puts everyone else's needs ahead of her own — she's even allowed her parents to raise her in boy's clothing, to save the expense of launching two daughters into high society.

The conflict in the opera is between the sisters' desires and the needs of their parents.
- Rex Levang

Nevertheless, they're loving sisters. The conflict in the opera is between their own desires and the needs of their parents. It seems to be an insoluble problem. Then, an unexpected caller arrives, who may be the answer to Arabella's prayers.

Meanwhile, Zdenka finds herself in a predicament of her own. She improvises a plan, which will be fraught with consequences.

For Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Arabella was a chance to write comedy, set in Vienna, the locale he returned to again and again. For Strauss, it was a chance to explore the subtle nuances of personality that interested him so much. It was also a chance to write for his favorite instrument, the soprano voice — or, in fact, two of them.

Listen to Arabella on Saturday, April 19, at 11 a.m., on Classical MPR.


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