Premiere at the Teatro Real of the opera 'Arabella', by Richard Strauss.

Hugo Von Hoffmannsthalthe leading playwright of Richard Strausswith whom he began to collaborate writing the libretto for Elektra in 1908 and remained faithful to the composer until 1929 when he died, it was invented to The Knight of the Rose (1910) an alleged Viennese tradition: the delivery of a silver rose by a nobleman to his future wife on the day of the engagement.

The “invention” worked so well that for Arabella (1933), the last collaboration between the two creators, Von Hoffmannsthal once again resorted to another equally fictional tradition, this time from Slovenia, Mandryka’s homeland: when a young woman offers a glass of clear, cool water to the man she loves, if he accepts it, they seal their commitment “before the eyes of God and men.”

Is Arabella that the Teatro Real is programming over the next few days is such a well-rounded, scenically beautiful, theatrically effective and musically remarkable production, that one would give not one but as many glasses of water as needed to that wonderful Arabella: an extraordinary direction musical by a David Affham in a state of grace, an intelligent, delicate and subtle production signed by Christof Loy and an excellent cast with a leading quartet of a very high level.

Joan Mataboschcurrent artistic director of the Teatro Real, seems to have a special affection for this production of Arabella by Christof Loy -which was presented in Frankfurt in 2009- and recovers it to inaugurate this title in Madrid, where it arrives for the first time 90 years after its premiere in Dresden. He already turned to her in her last season as artistic director of the Liceu -2014- and has programmed her again for the Teatro Real.

In Barcelona, ​​when it was revived after not being performed since 1989, this Arabella received the Amics del Liceu award for best opera performance that season and Loy was chosen as best stage director for the staging of this opera by Strauss. It comes with good references and is an example of Loy’s work that we have seen before in Madrid, where he has achieved various successes: since that Ariadne Auf Naxos with which it premiered in 2006, the lulu of 2009, an exquisite Capriccio well-deserved success in 2019 and a less successful version of the rusalka in 2020.

Loy develops a meticulous theatrical reading that reaches ecstasy in a magnificent third act

Is Arabella that now arrives in Madrid continues to maintain, as in Barcelona, ​​its stage clean, polished and sparse of any element. Some little furniture in the first and second act and none in the third. A stage production in pure white, so fashionable years ago -one more of the many we have seen at the Teatro Real.

Luminous, surgical, aseptic, nuclear, Loy empties the stage, with hardly any props, with nothing that takes us to Vienna at the end of the 19th century, without elements that evoke that already decadent and cracked imperial society and bets everything on an exquisite stage work. with the singers. In a resounding white frame, sober and playing with some panels that reveal different spaces -a living room stripped of almost everything except some suitcases, a landing, the stairs of a palace in celebration…

Loy develops a meticulous theatrical reading that reaches ecstasy in a magnificent third act, where he already has all the furniture elements to spare and only trusts in the deeply dramatic charge of the text by Hoffmannsthal and the music by Strauss, which takes place in the claustrophobic stage box. completely empty.

It is supported by a beautiful wardrobe by Herbert Murauer and the efficient work of the illuminator Reinhard Traub, which, however, at the premiere had several striking mismatches that I suppose will be polished in the rest of the functions. Despite some light boos, Loy was greeted with warm applause at the final greetings.

David Afkham returns to the Teatro Real -after his Bomarzo in 2017- having signed his renewal just a few days ago until 2026 as head of the National Orchestra of Spain (ONE), when it seemed that 2024 would be his last season. It is undoubtedly great news that the German director has signed two more years as ONE’s chief and artistic director with the intention of continuing to cement and increase the excellent moment that this corporation has been going through since he arrived in 2019.

David Afkham is first and foremost a scholar. (…) He has a very elegant taste in gesture; his hands, without a baton, maintain the tension of a restrained but deeply revealing direction

If we can also count on him more frequently in the Teatro Real pit, we will be doubly lucky. Especially if his return is with a composer, Strauss, for whom he has a special fondness, as was demonstrated in the sensational Salome in a concert version last summer at the National Auditorium with the ONE or in the now distant, but equally memorable, Salomé at the end of 2017.

David Afkham is first and foremost a scholar, a hard-working student who faces each new challenge that is proposed with the impetus of an opponent of notaries. Hours and hours of analysis, notes, meditation, reading… His conception of Strauss is so intense, deep, defined, his study capacity is so analytical and obsessive that he dives into the score to extract every note hidden in the mighty Straussian universe. , in the highly complex architecture of the Austrian composer.

Premiere at the Teatro Real of the opera ‘Arabella’, by Richard Strauss.

Monika Ritterhaus

Royal Theatre

He has a very elegant taste in the gesture; his hands, without a baton, maintain the tension of a measured but profoundly revealing direction, there are no gratuitous gestures in Afkham, there are no excesses but everything is in its place, everything fits, everything is thought and rethought to string together each note, each emotion, each intensity. His sound is not bombastic, vacuous but of a deep respect for the score, for the intention and for the cleanliness in the interpretation.

His Strauss is profoundly theatrical, subtle, more concentrated than sparkly, more melancholic than light, more corporeal than ephemeral, but the sound he extracts from the Teatro Real Orchestra is crystalline, embedded and round.

For this Arabella the Teatro Real presents a leading quartet of a very high level: Arabella (Sara Jakubiak), Zdenka (Sarah Defrise), Mandryka (Joseph Wagner) and Matteo (Matthew Newlin). For the leading role, the theater is making a strong commitment, offering its debut in Madrid to one of the young North American promises, the excellent American soprano Sara Jakubiak, considered by The New York Times as an “impressive, crystal-voiced soprano” and with a promising international career, largely focused on German roles.

She is one of the most in-demand interpreters of Straussian and Wagnerian roles, and she has chosen Madrid to incorporate the Arabella into her repertoire for the first time. She debuted in Spain three years ago as Chrysothemis in the production of robert carsen of the Elektra and already has extensive experience in other Straussian roles: Elektra, Salomé and Ariadna Auf Naxos. With a beautiful, wide, harmonic voice and an incredible taste in singing, she has had a sensational debut.

At the end of the long performance, one leaves the theater with the satisfaction of having been lucky enough to enjoy such a well-executed Arabella.

Next to him is the Belgian soprano Sarah Defrise, very young but with an excellent timbre and sharp treble notes, although somewhat tremulous. At the moment, she is closely linked to the theaters of her country of origin, but she is already beginning to make her first steps internationally and it is a wise move to schedule her. for these functions. Her duet in her first act together with Jakubiak revealed how blended her voices were, the musicality and taste of both. Her performance in the third act was equally compelling.

Equally excellent is the baritone Josef Wagner, a Mandrika of a high level, with a powerful voice and strong character, whom we already enjoyed at the Capriccio of 2019, but on this occasion he plays a more relevant and successful role, and the American tenor Matthew Newlin, a true revelation from the start of the opera: a great voice, large, well projected, with resounding treble, great expressiveness and with a remarkable scenic view.

very good executions martin winkler and the legendary Anne Sofie von Otter as Arabella’s parents and a magnificent surprise: the extraordinary Fiakermilli of the Basque soprano Elena Sancho Peregwho displays a sublime vocal power, with a colossal confidence in the execution of his coloraturas and who reveals himself as a brilliant discovery.

The function, despite being announced in the hand program with a duration of three hours and 40 minutes, lasts up to four hours, with two intermissions. But at the end of the long performance one leaves the theater with the satisfaction of having been lucky enough to enjoy a Arabella so well executed.

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J. A. Allen

Author, blogger, freelance writer. Hater of spiders. Drinker of wine. Mother of hellions.

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