Hampson sings a favorite role in Vienna

American baritone Thomas Hampson will sing one of his favorite roles, Mandryka in Richard Strauss’s period piece Arabella, at the Vienna State Opera in a new production opening on December 9 (nine additional performances through March 30).

imagePerformances: December 9, 12, 16, 19, 22, 26, 2006

Hampson describes the role as “marvelous: multi-faceted, fascinating, romantic and very serious. He has his dark moments, leavened with a lot of humor. His fate is complex – even when he smiles, his eyes are deep and dark.”

Arabella was the last of the six collaborations yielded by the brilliant partnership of Richard Strauss and poet-librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal, which also brought the world Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Frau ohne Schatten and Die Ägyptsiche Helena. The new production in Vienna reunites Mr. Hampson with conductor Franz Welser-Möst, principal conductor of the Zurich Opera, where the baritone has performed every season for two decades. Hampson’s fellow cast-members include Canadian Adrienne Pieczonka (Arabella), Austrian Genia Kühmeier (Arabella’s sister Zdenka) and Canadian Michael Schade (Matteo). The director is Sven-Eric Bechtolf, and stage design and costumes are by Rolf Glittenberg and Marianne Glittenberg respectively.

The plot of Arabella involves the penniless Waldners, a family of minor nobility in late 19th-century Vienna brought low by the father’s compulsive gambling. Count Waldner hopes to solve his financial problems by marrying off his beautiful elder daughter (Arabella) to a rich nobleman.

Tim Ashley, of London’s Guardian newspaper, has summed up the story:

“Arabella, being of marriageable age, is effectively to be prostituted to the highest bidder to salvage the financial mess. The person most drastically affected, however, is [the] younger daughter Zdenka. To avoid the cost of ‘bringing out’ two daughters in society, she has been raised as a boy and renamed Zdenko. Zdenka has also fallen in love with Matteo, to whom she is sending secret love letters in Arabella’s name. Arabella longs to escape … Her potential liberator does turn up, though he is not quite the man expected. [Her father] in desperation has written to Mandryka, a rich, former army crony, retired to Croatia, enclosing a portrait of Arabella, in the hope of arousing his interest. The elder Mandryka is long dead but the portrait has the desired effect on his nephew, a widower of the same name.”

That widower is, of course, portrayed by Thomas Hampson.

A dedicated singing actor, Hampson especially enjoys deep research into the music, cultural history and background of all his roles. He further describes the nobly-born but countrified Mandryka as “jovial – but always with a tinge of melancholy. In a way, he’s from another planet. This large, good-natured fellow is modest, honest, and direct, but at the same time he is very insecure, vulnerable, and no match for posh Viennese society. It’s a role I’m particularly fond of.”

Hampson talks about working with director Bechtolf during rehearsals:

“Sven-Eric’s production is set in the 1930s, when the piece was written – while the Weimar Republic, along with much of the rest of Europe, was in economic collapse. Each day we invent a new biography for Mandryka. He could have been an officer in the Great War, so his manners as an officer and gentleman are compounded by the horrors of war he has experienced. His family, his first wife, his manor in Croatia – all of this belongs to a time gone by. When he receives the letter from Waldner, he immediately falls in love with Arabella’s portrait, and while he’s spending three months lying in bed recovering from an injury, he looks at the picture every day and asks himself, ‘Shall I really die without finding happiness again?’ And when he finally goes to Vienna, he is all set on finding it: ‘There must be no obstacles on my courting journey,’ he tells Arabella’s father. He is leaving his past behind to begin a new life.”

A tragic sidebar to this opera plot’s happy ending is that Hofmannsthal had finished only a draft of the libretto when he collapsed suddenly at the funeral of his son, who had committed suicide for reasons that have never been explained. Hofmannsthal died without revising his text, which Strauss refused to change in any way.

Ten years have passed since Arabella was last presented by the Vienna State Opera. The new production, opening on December 9, will be shown six times in December (details below) and returns to the repertoire in March 2007.

Between those two periods, Thomas Hampson will spend several months in the U.S., singing several concerts and recitals before returning to the Metropolitan Opera in the title role of Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra – a company role debut. And in April he repeats Boccanegra at the Vienna State Opera, his “home” company.

The premiere of “Arabella” on December 9th (7pm) will be broadcast live on OE1.


Nächste Neuproduktion:
Arabella-Proben haben begonnen

Nach knapp 10 Jahren kehrt ARABELLA, das letzte Gemeinschaftsprojekt von Richard Strauss und Hugo von Hofmannsthal zurück in den Spielplan der Wiener Staatsoper (Premiere: 9. Dezember 2006).

Unter der Leitung von Franz Welser-Möst werden u. a. Adrianne Pieczonka (Arabella), Genia Kühmeier (Zdenka), Thomas Hampson (Mandryka) und Michael Schade (Matteo) zu erleben sein.
Mit der Inszenierung wurde Sven-Eric Bechtolf betraut. Bühnenbild und Kostüme stammen von Rolf Glittenberg respektive Marianne Glittenberg.

Die Premiere von “Arabella” wird am 9.12. um 19 Uhr live aus der Staatsoper auf ö1 übertragen.