Arabella. Paris Opera Bastille. June 17th 2012. Production: Marco Arturo Marelli. Conductor: Philippe Jordan. Cast: Renée Fleming (Arabella), Michael Volle (Mandryka), Julia Kleiter (Zdenka), Joseph Kaiser (Matteo), Kurt Rydl (Waldner), Doris Soffel (Adelaide), Iride Martinez (Fiakermilli).
Renée Fleming obviously has reached a level where she can chose which directors to work with, apparently preferring to work in stylish, minimalistic production straying not too far from the libretto. Thus a couple of years ago she was a quite superb Cappriccio Countess in Vienna in a production of Marco Arturo Marelli, also behind this new production of Arabella at the Bastille Opera in Paris. Here, however, she was somewhat less than superb and her performance underlined an evolution, which has become increasingly visible in her performances during the past years, at least in Richard Strauss operas:
First of all Renée Fleming is definitely not in her vocal prime anymore. Much of the bloom of her top register has gone, and her middle register, by some still called creamy, is far from creamy now with a timbre, which simply does not appeal to me.
Secondly, I have some issues with her performance style. Some call it mannerisms. In my native Danish language there is a very good word for it, which directly translated read affected. Affected language, affected acting. Renée Fleming may aim to communicate sophistication, as she applies the same style with her Marschallin in Rosenkavalier, however ultimately she portrays Arabella as a superficial character. Which, on the other hand, is a valid interpreation, of course, if not the libretto and music suggest otherwise.
She was audible, but not audible enough for me to actually distinguish the words she was singing.
However, however...for those not familiar with Renée Flemings previous vocal status, and even for those well familiar with it, it is easy to understand why she is admired and received huge ovations here: She has a firm grip of Straussian style and first and foremost she has a distinctness to her performance that really does make her stand out. On a technical point, some may find her use of portamento excessive, though personally I do not mind.
And finally, despite my reservations about her voice, she is still among the very finest around. Who today, can perform a finer Arabella? Adrienne Pieczonka in Vienna a couple of years ago was rather superb. Anne Schwanewilms undoubtedly also. But else?
Michael Volle, on the other hand, I don´t have any reservations about. He was simply superb, vocally strong, a straightforward and engaging stage actor, convincingly portraying Mandryka as a sincere man unfamiliar with the sophisticated Viennese way, but thankfully without the overacting often seen. Several of his scenes were in fact unusually moving.
No reservations about Julia Kleiter neither, a clear and pure voice, almost overpowering Renée Fleming at times. Just as fine as her Zdenka on the 2007 Zurich Arabella DVD, alongside Renée Fleming as well.
Despite fine singing I have always found Joseph Kaiser, a bit indistinctive as a performer. Here as well. Finally Kurt Rydl and Doris Soffel were feisty as the elderly couple.
Marco Arturo Marelli´s production was superb. Stylish, minimalistic and elegant. A naked white room with some furniture (gradually removed), a built-in white circular stage and some sliding doors.
Philippe Jordan conducts Arabella like it was Elektra, emphasising the contrasts and highlighting the darker thematic elements of the score to a degree I haven´t quite heard before.
Renée Fleming: 4
Joseph Kaiser: 4