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music by Richard Strauss
libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
staged by Christof Loy
scenography by Herbert Murauer 
Gran Teatre del Liceu
Barcelona, 17 November 2014

All you need is love

When it became known that the German soprano Anne Schwanewilms had sprained her ankle during rehearsals, they jumped all alarms facing the premiere of Richard Strauss' Arabella at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. Still, the release date was maintained and shortly before starting the function the Liceu announced that despite the physical difficulties Anne Schwanewilms would play Arabella, so called comprehension. The truth is that her performance was magnificent, and so appreciated the theater audience with its final delivery. Frau Schwanewilms war wirklich wunderbar.

Note that the path of this Oper Frankfurt production has not been easy on its arrival at the Liceu. The musical director had to be Antoni Ros-Marbà but after suffering tachyarrhythmia he left the production and was replaced by the Austrian Ralf Weikert. It has been reported that there was not only health problems but also lack of harmony with the cast but what it’s absolutely true is the repose prescription for the teacher Ros-Marbà. To this we must add soprano Genia Kühmeier also left her Zdenka role due to personal reasons and was eventually played by the Valencian soprano Ofelia Sala.

All's well that ends well. The Arabella directed by the German Christof Loy and staging by Herbert Murauer excited Liceu’s audience at its premiere on 17 November. Its minimalist staging with white walls playing with volumes moving and with abstraction gave prominence to all the characters played by a superb cast and led by the beauty of Anne Schwanewilms. Time is irrelevant and psychology, the whys of each character, their fears and shortcomings, took command of the story, skillfully connecting with the viewer who encounters an abstract scenario where everyone can dump their own circumstances.

Arabella's story is that of a noble ruined, her father, who wants her to marry a wealthy family. Arabella dreams of marrying for love but her father entrusted her to a rich stranger and she agrees just to save her family. In the end, love will triumph but after much confusion and tangles. While the story is not exactly something extraordinary, the music is deeply refined and technically complex, for both vocals and orchestra. Ralf Weikert got orchestral quality needed, even being in a somewhat dull moment. The baritone Michael Volle had a magnificen command of his Mandryka character and his psychological development. Ofelia Sala gave a wonderful Zdenka, the transvestite sister of Arabella, especially in her peak intensity when unveils all that is a woman. But above all the elegance and musicality of Anne Schwanewilms, the perfect Arabella.

Text by Juan Carlos Romero
Photos and video courtesy of Gran Teatre del Liceu
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