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For the opera to work, it is important that we come to love Arabella and here I don't think we quite did. In the bigger set pieces, such as Arabella and Zdenka's duet 'Er ist der richtige' Mattila's voice seemed to lack that ultimate refulgence that is necessary in this music; she never quite seemed to open up. Mind you, as she was placed high on the half-landing off the balcony, it's not surprising that Mattila's voice in the duet seemed to lose contact with the orchestra and rather edged sharp. This placing of singers was a problem throughout the opera, Mussbach used every inch of his set so that too often singers were placed too high, or too far away from the audience.

As her suitor, Count Elemer, John Dasazk looked ill at ease in his supposedly stylish costume; as if both costume and conception of the role had been designed for a slighter man, though he entered gamely into Mussbach's production, but not surprisingly, Dasazk sounded ill at ease as well.

Arabella's father was played by Artur Korn in a warm, non-caricatured way; a weak man for whom you could not help but have a little sympathy.

Thomas Hampson as Mandryka. Photo © 2004 Catherine Ashmore
Thomas Hampson as Mandryka. Photo © 2004 Catherine Ashmore

As Mandryka, the mysterious stranger, Thomas Hampson made a big impression in his Act I entrance, complete with a superb fur coat. Hampson has an attractive stage presence, but I sometimes think that he comes complete with a rather portmanteau interpretation. Here, though, he displayed a lovely combination of naivety, power and sophistication.

Mussbach's personen regie was exemplary, and he achieved fine, detailed performances from his singers; they created tangible relationships between the characters. Unfortunately, in the larger ensembles he had a tendency to populate the stage with supers who seemed to come directly from the Ministry of Funny Walks.

With a fixed set, the ball, in Act II, apparently took place in the foyer of the hotel where Arabella is living. For the opening scene of this act, the ball was little in evidence so allowing our attention to be focused on the growing relationship between Arabella and Mandryka; she a little timid despite her boldness, he full of enthusiasm. And their duet was spine tingling.

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Copyright © 20 June 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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