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Richard Strauss Arabella
Gundula Janowitz, Edita Gruberova, Bernd Weikl, Rene Kollo, Sona Ghazarian, Margarita Lilowa, Hans Kraemmer
Wiener Philharmoniker/Sir Georg Solti

Film version 1977, director Otto Schenk
Decca - 0743255 (DVD Video - 2 discs)

This a classic account of Arabella which definitely gains something from its intimate filmed setting away from an opera house. Schenk sets it traditionally in mid-19th century Vienna, with suitably affluent settings and magnficent costuming. The film preserves fine performances by famous artists.

All the casting is excellent, with the newly impoverished parents desperate to marry off their daughters, one of them the boyish sister who comes out as a girl, finally opening the eyes of Arabella's love-sick suitor to what is his best chance; and dominating all, the instantly infatuated Janowitz (in close up looking a little more mature than the supposed late adolescent taking leave of her girlhood)...

As often too with Tristans, her love of Mandryka at first sight may not appear quite so inevitable to us in the audience (though my wife found Weikl 'rather dashing'). He is impressive in his prolonged storm in an outsize teacup which takes us from his misunderstanding towards the end of Act Two through to purchase of weapons and duels, eventually called off for a Mills & Boon happy ending.

Any residual disbelief is readily suspended in the latter part of Act Three whilst Janowitz produces an endless stream of beautiful Straussian melody and the happy ending with two couples sorted remains a real tear-jerker.

Of topical interest, this historic film includes a telling cameo performance by coloratura soprano Edita Gruberova in her prime as the fiakermili; Gruberova's long delayed Wigmore Hall debut this week found her in excellent voice - thirty years on !

The dubbing is very convincing and the whole thing a great success. It is all underpinned by Solti's impassioned conducting of the delectable orchestral score, recorded with good balance and presence. Though, of course, we never see him or the Wiener Philharmoniker, it is good to have the Vorspiel to Act Three undistracted by stage business as is nowadays de rigeur, so that one can listen to the orchestra as it were before the curtain rises (that moment, for my sister, was the most exciting of a night at the theatre!), and the orchestra makes a crucial contribution to the growing fervour towards the end, with the glass of water replacing the Rosenkavalier's silver rose...

Peter Grahame Woolf