Of Strauss' operas Arabella is not my favourite but the beautiful soaring music and the story and characters maintain interest. This Arabella is wonderful, well cast, visually opulent and spot-on musically. If I were to say my preferences, I do prefer live performances when it comes to opera, don't get me wrong there are more opera films I love more often than not(1976 Tosca, 1979 Don Giovanni, 1982 Rigoletto, 1975 Le Nozze Di Figaro, 1975 Salome, 1981 Elektra and 1982 La Traviata) but I do find live performances to have more spontaneity and perhaps are more exciting as an experience.
Is this Arabella my favourite performance of Strauss' opera? No, not quite, the one to watch is the 1960 Della Casa, Fischer-Dieskau and Rothenberger performance, while the 1984 Glyndebourne and 1994 Met productions are also incredible. The 1977 Otto Schenk-directed film is well worth watching though. Visually opulent with lush settings and sumptuous costuming enhanced by the lovely photography it is a treat on the visual front. Perhaps there are more interesting opera directors than Schenk, but he does direct fastidiously and emphasises Arabella's radiance, Mandryka's boorishness and the flamboyant 19th century aristocracy of Vienna very well.
Musically, it is really superlative. The orchestral playing soars in the legato phrasing, complete with delicate woodwind, the brass as with often the case with Strauss have difficult music but they are appropriately robust and the strings play with real lushness. Georg Solti's conducting is enigmatic yet more subtle than it had a tendency to be, there were times where he was a little in-your-face but that is not the case here.
The cast are superb. Some may say that Gundula Janowitz is too old for the role of Arabella. In regard to this, maybe a tad, but the actual performance is what counts and Janowitz's performance is exceptional. Her silvery timbre is perfect for the role and shaped with controlled legato(very like Della Casa) and great musicianship. Dramatically the performance is both charming and deeply felt, and she is radiant to look at. Bernd Weikl manages to make a boorish character human, he has a handsome sonorous voice and he is refined without being overly so.
Sona Ghazarian shows a beautiful voice and a nobility that makes her self-sacrifice all the more heart-breaking. Her scenes with Janowitz are among the film's many highlights. Hans Kraemer is wonderful as Arabella's father, who here is a fully rounded character, sympathetic while also delighting in his facial expressions as he eyes Mandryka's money. Edita Gruberova's colouratura even early in her career was still thrilling and is wonderfully edgy and witty, while Kurt Rydl also early in his career is nice to see.
Rene Kollo is Matteo, a role that is atop the list of thankless Strauss tenor roles. Kollo has given better performances in roles that give him more to do other than threatening suicide, but sings very well, less weedy than later on in his career. He is also highly-strung and intense when he needs to be, which considering the nature of the role is quite a feat.
Overall, wonderful opera film. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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