The hero appears on his white charger, saves the family finances,
arranges the marriage of one daughter, himself marries the other
daughter and everyone lives happily ever after. Well not quite.
Count Waldner is an inveterate card gambler/loser.
His daughter Zdenka, acting the role of a boy because the family
cannot afford two daughters out in the Carnival season of Vienna
of 1860, loves Matteo. Matteo thinks he loves her sister Arabella.
Meanwhile Arabella is waiting for Mr Right: and along comes
‘shed-loads-of-money’ Mandryka who obliges instantly by falling
in love with her. By Zdenka’s ruse, to try and make Matteo her
own, she persuades him to visit what he thinks will be Arabella’s
room that night. She plans to be there herself. Matteo visits
the bedroom late at night believing it to be Arabella’s. Mandryka,
having overheard the planning of the ruse, believes Arabella
to be duplicitous. When accusations flow, weapons are fetched
and chaos reigns, Zdenka descends from her room and confesses.
Matteo realises he loves her and not Arabella who loves Mandryka
who re-finances the family. So everyone lives happily ever after?
Well not quite. Hofmannsthal wrote the libretto. He revised
Act I with Strauss. Before he could revise Acts II and III Hofmannsthal’s
son committed suicide and then hours before the funeral Hofmannsthal
himself suffered a fatal heart attack.
is the 1977 film version. The events take place on Shrove Tuesday
the last day of the Carnival Season after which match-making
is suspended. How’s that for pressure on Arabella to marry a
rich suitor. The production is ‘set’ on location, three only
being required. The Waldners’ sitting room in a faded gentility
hotel; the anteroom/staircases to the Cabbies’ ball at a different
(upmarket) hotel; and the entrance hall of the Waldners’ hotel.
So no views of orchestra or Solti and the prelude to Act III
(none elsewhere and no overture) depicting musically the events
in Zdenka’s room when Matteo visits, played against a screen
announcing that it is indeed the prelude.
Now if that little
lot is not sufficiently different then accept that the characters
do not sing on the film: they mime to their own voices - or
more prosaically the film is dubbed. Oh horror did I hear? Well
let me assure you that it is not. This is an astonishingly good
production wherein you quickly become used to seeing the effortless
production of stratospheric notes; the even, controlled breathing
and the energy expended by Weikl (Mandryka) and Gruberova (Fiakermilli,
the Cabmen’s mascot) leaping, and being thrown, respectively
around the ‘set’ at the Ball.
Both Gundula Janowitz
(Arabella) and Sona Ghazarian (Zdenko as ‘him’ and Zdenka as
‘her’) are very experienced in their respective roles appearing
in many notable productions. The only reservation about Janowitz
is that it is a little difficult to accept that she is very
young and that this is the last night of her girlhood, particularly
when there are one or two not-so-kind close-ups. The other ‘silly’
point is that the physical build of the two daughters means
that Matteo (Kollo) must be more than usually naïve not to realise
the difference even in the darkened bedroom. But who cares –
accept that little irrationality and enjoy the delightful singing
and some serious acting.
her wide vocal range to great effect. Here she powers a note,
there she floats it. Her solo aria at the end of Act I is superb:
studied lyricism, varied colouring, stunning clarity and smoothness
of tone. This is true also of her aria leading into the duet
with Ghazarian Aber der Richtige (track 6) where their
splendid vocal balance increases the pleasure exponentially.
a crystal clear sound – with almost a sparkling spring quality.
She has less opportunity for vocal show but is totally convincing
in her love for Kollo (Matteo). This Zdenka would indeed sacrifice
her happiness for his. She produces the first lyrical moments
in the opera to which Kollo responds so well.
It almost goes without
saying that Kollo copes superbly with the high-lying tessitura
that Strauss wrote. This was (is) Kollo at his vocal height
with no sound of vocal effort and providing powerful dramatic
acting particularly in the last Act.
I enjoyed enormously
both the singing and the acting of the Waldner parents with
their respective beliefs in the power of the playing cards.
He is the optimistic inevitable loser at the gambling table,
she is the justified believer in the fortune-teller’s reading
of the cards.
(Waldner’s wife, Adelaide) has a wonderfully creamy, almost
sultry, voice; as attractive to the ear as she is to the eye.
She is vocally secure and reflects superbly her financial and
familial anxieties. Kraemmer (Count Waldner) is outstanding.
He is vocally assured both as the gambler blind to his financial
plight and later as the parent / husband taking up his responsibilities
in the denouement – note particularly the brief touching interchange
with Janowitz. His gestures, of which examples are, impatient
finger drumming, delighted but hesitant self-help of money from
Weikl’s (Mandryka’s) wallet and the finger flexing of the card
player believing in his luck: all supreme touches which perfectly
is the baritone hero, Mandryka, who
uses his distinctive timbre to great
effect. There is almost a steely vocal
reverence at the beginning of his meeting
with Kraemmer which he mellows into
his lyrical arioso Wenn aber das
die (in track 11 disc 1) before
moving excitedly onto this account of
his assets. In his lyrical moments with
Janowitz he demonstrates the strength
of his vocal colouring. I find it difficult
to choose between her beautifully delivered
and affecting final aria and the duet
she sings with Weikl Und du wirst
mein gebieter sein (disc 1 track
17) where the sublime music enables
her to show how notes should be floated
and he provides a perfect vocal balance.
has the almost unbelievable coloratura role of the Fiakermilli.
So at the extreme is it that, even with such an exponent of
the note on high, it is impossible to distinguish more than
the odd word. She carries it off well by, for the most part,
‘tra – la-la-ing’ as an inherent part of the laughter and gaiety
of the character. It would be difficult to accept even on film
that she could do otherwise when she is born aloft by the chorus
at the ball. It is indeed Gruberova and so those unbelievable
notes are duly middled, but it is not an aurally comfortable
Martha Mödl’s cameo
role is as the bespectacled cardigan wearing fortune-teller
who despatches with ease the vocal demands - even if on one
occasion (and only one) there is a question mark over mouth
movement and sound track co-ordination.
The three original
suitors for the hand of Janowitz are sung by Fransson, Helm
and Rydl. Fransson has the slightly impatient role of Elemer
which apart from the occasional hesitancy he sings comfortably.
Helm’s Dominik is truly tender and smooth - the brief (suggestive?)
interchange with Lilowa at the ball is very polished. Rydl carries
effortlessly the role of the more mature but unsuccessful sad
suitor who is rewarded deservedly with Janowitz’s last dance.
The setting enables
that dance to spill over to different levels: it provides the
ideal background for the various interactions at the ball from
the supper room to quiet seating. Elegant costumes match the
settings and if the central candelabra of the Waldners’ room
in Act I occasionally impedes facial visibility it is but a
small price to pay for what is otherwise a room perfectly representing
Solti is so at home
playing Strauss that the sheer enjoyment of conductor and orchestra
is self-evident on this non-orchestral visual DVD.
The booklet matches
the age of the production: cast list, track list with participants,
track lengths, production and DVD credits and an introductory
essay. All as it should be and so helpful.