Photo | Michael Cooper (Courtesy of the Canadian Opera company)
Resonating warmth and humour, through an inherently clever story that showcases love of all kinds, Arabella opened The Canadian Opera Company’s 2017-2018 season on October 5th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.
Arabella, Richard Strauss’ 1933 opera, tells the story of the aristocratic but financially troubled Waldner family living in Vienna. Only one of the two Waldner daughters, Arabella, is allowed to present herself as a woman. Zdenka, her younger sister, lives as “Zdenko” since they cannot afford to raise two daughters in upper-class Viennese society. Their father, Count Waldner, is looking to marry off Arabella to a rich suitor in order to rescue the family from their debts.
Erin Wall stars as the eponymous Arabella, bringing elegance and poise to a character with firm beliefs, despite her lack of autonomy as a woman. Her operatic soprano is full and steady throughout the three-hour production, and she utilizes Strauss’ composition to showcase the various colours of her voice. A particularly prominent moment comes when Arabella closes the opera by declaring her love and devotion to Mandryka (Tomasz Konieczny), her chosen suitor. This happens as the spotlight follows her gentle movements around the stage and as Wall’s voice shines in the role of Arabella, and matches well with each of her scene partners.
Jane Archibald’s Zdenka was the most memorable performance of the evening. Archibald is the COC’s inaugural Artist-in-Residence, and the gradual development of the plot showcased both her vocal and theatrical abilities. Both her Zdenka and “Zdenko” personas were equally delightful, with her rich soprano tone flowing through her scenes and exhibiting her considerable range. Archibald’s dynamic contrast and precise dramatic choices in moments of self-torment captured the audience. For example, this can be seen when Zdenka was distraught about the fate of her friend and secret love, Matteo (Michael Brandenburg), whose advances towards Arabella are soundly rejected.
Arabella is ultimately a multi-faceted love story. Arabella’s many suitors pine for her love, while she does not return any of their affections and maintains hope that she may find her true love. Zdenka’s love for Matteo is self-sacrificing, in that she encourages him to pursue her sister in order to keep him safe. However, the most authentic moments of compassion occur between the Waldner sisters. Wall and Archibald’s vocal blend and theatrical chemistry when performing duets with one another displays the deep family bond that tethers them together. The two powerful sopranos create a resonant and stunning sound that comes to represent the soul of Arabella.
The production’s liveliest moment in the otherwise static set and lighting design comes when The Fiakermilli, played by a joyful Claire de Sévigné, arrives on the stage to entertain the party. De Sévigné’s clear and skilled coloratura soprano brilliantly plays against the staging of the scene, in which her character, donning a striking firetruck red jacket, taunts each of the gentlemen at the ball by tossing them out of their chairs. Her commanding stage presence demonstrates the power women possess in the show, and reaffirms the outstanding vocal technique of the soprano roles in Arabella.
Arabella’s main love interest, Mandryka, is a wealthy landowner sung with strength by Konieczny. His character range is significant – varying from wistful when explaining the death of his uncle, to despair when he realizes he has betrayed Arabella’s trust and declares the “Earth is collapsing underneath [him].” The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra provides unwavering support and strings tension throughout, despite overpowering the men on occasion, due to the nature of the latter’s low vocal tessitura.
The COC’s production of Arabella possesses a powerful vocal and dramatic range, with amusing comedic moments contrasted by tender embraces of familial and romantic devotion. The opera espouses universal themes of searching and turning to love for salvation in times of difficulty. Arabella was a beautiful and dazzling operatic production fit to begin the Canadian Opera Company’s 2017-2018 season.
Arabella runs until October 28th at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.