Toronto – The Canadian Opera Company opens its 2017/2018 season with the lush orchestration and soaring vocal lines of Richard Strauss’ lyrical comedy about love, money and sex, Arabella. Never before presented by the COC, Arabella has its company premiere with a glamorous opulent staging conceived by acclaimed Toronto resident director Tim Albery, starring two of the finest sopranos on the world stage today: Canadians Erin Wall and Jane Archibald. Arabella runs for seven performances on October 5, 10, 14, 18, 20, 22, 28, 2017 at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
German Patrick Lange, the new general music director for the Wiesbaden State Theatre and one of the most exciting maestros of his generation, returns to the COC to conduct Arabella’s beautiful and charming score in a staging that shows audiences “how seductive and insightful Strauss can be when offered a production as gracefully nuanced as this one” (Santa Fe Reporter). A COC co-production with Minnesota Opera and Santa Fe Opera, this new presentation of Arabella was praised by The New York Times as “smart and tasteful,” singling out how Albery “honors the work’s period setting in a sensitively detailed production” with sets and costumes by Tobias Hoheisel and lighting design by David Finn.
At the core of Strauss’ opera is the relationship between two sisters of a financially ruined noble family who are trying to find their way amidst the changing world of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Inspired by this backdrop of age old contrasts and a yearning for something more, Albery situates the action of Strauss’ opera in Vienna on the eve of the First World War. The staging suggests a time of hedonistic triviality with the looming cataclysm of the war that would destroy all the certainties of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The result is “an extravagant, visually appealing (Gustav Klimt-style) glamour that suits the characters and their situations” (Opera News).
World-renowned Canadian Erin Wall brings her “lovely, sympathetic Arabella” (New York Times) and “radiant soprano caressing Strauss’ sinuous, soaring lines” (Dallas Morning News) to the COC to sing the title role.
Making her role debut as Zdenka, Arabella’s sister who is forced to pass for a boy, is acclaimed Canadian Jane Archibald, the COC’s 2017/2017 Artist-in-Residence and an “extraordinary coloratura soprano” (Globe and Mail) who “whether it be her projection, tone, intensity, breath or agility, as a soloist or in the many ensembles, her voice radiates and surprises at every moment” (ClassiqueNews.com).
Poland’s Tomasz Konieczny, a bass-baritone praised as “full of light, radiance, power and immeasurable generosity,” (Frankfurter Allgemeine), makes his Canadian debut as Mandryka, Arabella’s suitor. American tenor Michael Brandenburg brings “his natural acting and clear, attractive tenor” (Metro Weekly) to his company and role debut as Matteo, the penniless officer who loves Arabella and is secretly loved by Zdenka.
Distinguished Canadian baritone, and COC Ensemble Studio graduate, John Fanning is Count Waldner, Arabella and Zdenka’s gambling father, and German mezzo-soprano Gundula Hintz makes her Canadian debut as their mother, Adelaide.
Arabella’s trio of suitors are portrayed by three rising operatic talents: American tenor Corey Bix makes his COC debut as Count Elemer, American baritone Craig Irvin sings Count Dominik and COC Ensemble Studio baritone Bruno Roy is Count Lamoral. COC Ensemble Studio graduate coloratura soprano Claire de Sévigné is the belle of the ball, Fiakermilli. Canadian mezzo-soprano Megan Latham is the Fortune Teller.
Strauss’ Arabella was first performed in 1933 at the Dresden Sächsisches Staatstheater. It is the final collaboration between the composer and his long-time librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who had previously worked together on Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Die ägyptische Helena. While written in the late 1920s, the libretto of Arabella is based on a short story written by Hofmannsthal in 1910, Lucidor, Characters for an Unwritten Comedy, where the focus was not on Arabella but her tomboy sister, Lucile (the quasitrouser role of Zdenka in the opera), and published before the First World War.
Arabella is Strauss’ best-loved stage work from the 1920s and ’30s and contains some of the composer’s most beautiful music for orchestra and soprano voice. Performed with greater frequency among European opera houses than in North America, the COC premiere of Arabella may also mark the opera’s Canadian debut.
All performances of the COC’s production of Arabella feature the COC Orchestra and Chorus. Arabella is sung in German and presented by the COC with English SURTITLESTM.
Single tickets for Arabella range from $35 – $225 and box seats, when available, are $350. Tickets are now on sale, available online at coc.ca, by calling 416-363-8231, or in person at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts Box Office (145 Queen St. W.). For more information on specially priced tickets available to young people under the age of 15, standing room, Opera Under 30 presented by TD Bank Group, student groups and rush seating, visit coc.ca.
The Canadian Opera Company’s season-opening production of Arabella from German composer Richard Strauss is not only a beautiful warm up to opera season but a meditative journey into one of Strauss’ finest work. The athleticism of the artists on stage and in the orchestra pit will strengthen your heart and ease your mind. Arabella is not your typical opera night out.
Hardly Kardashian in financial stature and prestige for the time, instead we see opulence with a deep sense of loss within a family unit. Ballroom scenes, waiting for Mr. Right and chameleonic themes is flooded with the melding of humour and a darkness that lurks in the stairwells and deep crevices of the character’s evolving emotional mindsets.
As you immerse yourself in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s libretto – it is important to play close attention. Within the joviality, luxe colour and fabrics, stone architecture and giddy moments of cheekiness for the audience’s favour we see a transformation that slowly begins to sweep the stage. Perhaps echoing our own family of origin during different times in our own lives.
Soprano Erin Wall not only dazzles the audience as Arabella but teaches us the value of a true modern day musician. In true form on Saturday night, Wall charged the stage at every turn in her creamy gown with lashings of song that made the audience swoon and also smile in unison.
Jane Archibald, soprano voice, plays Arabella’s sister and provided us with the balance in the production. Down home, realistic and yet full of romantic exuberance.
Baritone, Tomasz Konieczny, was dynamic as Mandryka and provided the audience with some cringe worthy exchanges and a sex appeal that only illuminated the piece.
German conductor Patrick Lange indeed had a huge task of bringing Strauss’ music to life but adding a new breath to this piece that easily left you walking out of the Four Seasons for the Performing Arts with a spring in your step.
A wonderful evening out with Strauss and Co. Bravo to the Canadian Opera Company for bringing this complex but timely piece to Canadian audiences.