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Claire de Sévigné as the Fiakermilli, Tomasz Konieczny as Mandryka, John Fanning as Count Waldner and Gundula Hintz as Adelaide in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Arabella, 2017

Photo: credit: Michael Cooper

Erin Wall as Arabella and Jane Archibald as Zdenka in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Arabella, 2017

Photo: Michael Cooper

Last night, we attended the third of seven performances of Richard Strauss’ opera Arabella at the Four Seasons Centre. The production is a first for the Canadian Opera Company, and in fact, it is the first production of the work in Canada, 84 years after its opening in Dresden in 1933. Arabella has been called a lyric comedy, and there are certainly many comedic moments. It’s a melodramatic story of an aristocratic family fallen on hard times because of a gambling father who tries to marry off the eldest daughter to someone of wealth to restore some much needed cash. The opera hangs together because of Strauss’s lush orchestration and wonderful sense of soaring melodic line for voice and especially the sopranos. 

The COC sought out the finest talent possible for Arabella, beginning with the 36-year old conductor Patrick Lange, a frequent guest of the Vienna State Opera and many major opera houses across Europe, Asia and Australia. The challenging score was brilliantly performed by the COC orchestra. The dramatically charged moments had the energy of three orchestras. The musical lines were clear. I particularly enjoyed the work of the brass, and especially the horn solos.

The brilliant Director, Tim Albery, set out to ask the question "What is the Good Life?" and through his characterizations he clearly pointed to his conclusions.  His depiction of the Coachman's Ball was a wonderful display of Viennese gaiety and opulence. 

The sets and costume reflected Vienna of the 19th century. The monochrome sets by designer Tobias Hoheisel gave a somewhat representational yet complex backdrop for the lavish period costumes that Hoheisel also designed. 

Erin Wall as Arabella (foreground) and Jane Archibald as Zdenka in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Arabella, 2017;  Photo credit: Michael Cooper

Claire de Sévigné as the Fiakermilli and Tomasz Konieczny as Mandryka in the Canadian Opera Company’s new production of Arabella, 2017,

Photo: Michael Cooper

Canadian Opera Company opens its season with a beautiful production of Richard Strauss' Arabella

The role of Arabella was given to Canadian super-star soprano Erin Wall who has sung this role at the Met and Sante Fe Opera. Her sister in the opera, Zdenka, is soprano Jane Archibald who was recently heard on the COC stage in Ariodante and The Marriage of Figaro. Both of these singers gave sparkling performances. Their heart-felt sisterly moments were exquisite. Both are among the finest sopranos on the great opera stages of the world. Their fame was justified in their performances last night. 

The large cast included only top-ranked singers including Michael Brandenburg as Matteo, Gundula Hintz as Arabella’s mother, and John Fanning as Arabella’s father, Bruno Roy as Count Lamoral, Craig Irvin as Count Dominik, Corey Bix as Count Elemer, Claire de Sévigné as The Fiakermilli and Megan Latham as the fortune teller. 

Arriving an hour early for the performance gave the added bonus of an illustrated talk about the creation of the opera and details in it that could be easily missed. Wayne Gooding, recently retired editor of Opera Canada was as engaging as he was lucid in his thirty-minute discussion. Incidentally, Gooding is presenting a series of free discussions about the current COC season entitled Opera Talks ​at the Toronto Public Library. The next discussion on January 27th is entitled The Trials of Teen Love as an introduction to Verdi’s Rigoletto. Register early for Opera Talks if you hope to get a seat. 

The COC is off to another blockbuster season filled with extraordinary singers, conductors and orchestra bringing life to masterpiece dramatic works staged without compromise by world class stage directors, set designers and a host of artisans. The music of Strauss, Donizetti, Verdi, Mozart, and Stravinsky will be included. The first two operas are currently in production at the Four Seasons Centre: Richard Strauss’ opera Arabella, will have four more performances through October 28th; and Gaetano Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love will have seven more performances through to November 4th.

Toronto Concert Reviews' next review will follow the COC’s performance of Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love on stage at the Four Seasons Centre on Tuesday October 17.

Other notables in the cast included the Polish-born bass-baritone, Tomasz Konieczeny playing the role of Mandryka, the successful suitor of Arabella. His dramatic energy combined with his striking voice creating a presence on stage one wanted to hear more and more. Koneczeny will be heading to Tokyo following his engagement with COC and then on to Vienna where he will play the role of Wotan in Wagner’s Die Walküre

Review by David Richards

​Toronto ON October 15th 2017