Arabella. Film by Otto Schenk 1977. Cast: Gundula Janowitz (Arabella), Sonia Ghazarian (Zdenka), Bernd Weikl (Mandryka). Conductor: Sir Georg Solti with the Vienna Philharmonics. Further information here.
Arabella, first performed in Dresden 1933 is one of the string of lyrical operas of Richard Strauss after he so to speak bailed out of modern music drama after Elektra. A three-hour symphonic poem of Arabella, an ideal woman.
At this point perhaps I should opt for honesty: I only care for three of Richard Strauss´ operas: Salome, Elektra and Die Frau Ohne Schatten. And to cut short an otherwise long explanation regarding his lyrical operas: I find Richard Strauss´ tonal language superficial, empty and sentimental. However, I realize my opinion on these matters is completely uninteresting to anyone but myself, as they have all passed the test of time. Or at least, works as Rosenkavalier and Arabella have.
Otto Schenk has directed a traditional Arabella film, as expected. Obviously, it is a product of it´s time, being made in 1977, and a certain amount of dust is inevitable, but overall it looks rather fine as Schenk realistically depicts the slightly decadent Vienna of the 1860s. For any newcomer to this work, this film is a good place to start.
The overwhelmingly creamy golden beauty of Gundula Janowitz voice is unmatched by any other lyrical soprano and as such she is vocally ideal for this repertoire. However, she lacks the characterization to be an ideal interpreter. The golden voice is there, the character beneath the lush sound is not. Furthermore she is not a very good actress. Ultimately, I´d prefer a less "perfect" sound, but with more character. For those with different priorities, she may well be simply perfect. She is well-matched by Sonia Ghazarian´s Zdenka.
Georg Solti, on the other hand, has character in spades. And he is simply perfect in Richard Strauss, most of all because he is completely unsentimental. The straight, lush playing of the Vienna Philharmonics may not be bettered. Also a very strong and characterful performance from Bernd Weikl as Mandryka.
Gundula Janowitz and Bernd Weikl:
Gundula Janowitz: 4
Bernd Weikl: 5
Sir Georg Solti: 5
Otto Schenk: 3
Overall impression: 3-4