Sunday, November 15, 2009

Richard Strauss: Arabella in Vienna - Franz Josef's Reaction

The orchestra played loud and sure. The conductor waved his arms back and forth like a flag in the wind. His long hair waved as well, drenched in perspiration--after all, he had been conducting for over an hour. The notes were strangely twisted and dynamic--typical of Strauss. It was amidst this flowing blanket of sound that the main character, "Arabella," sung with rich tone. It was near the end of the last act.

The audience was glued to the performance excluding the Emperor Franz Josef who was seated in box 3. He usually showed an uninterested look and his slouched body gave away his dislike of opera. Nevertheless, the majority of the wealthy class, seated in the boxes, were anxiously hoping for a delightful ending. Would Arabella's new lover disgrace her after learning of her supposed unfaithfulness? Would the obsessive Mateo use the revolver to end his life?

Strauss wrote the opera with a joyful and romantic ending where the lovers would find happiness and the third act would end on a pleasant major chord, rather than a minor one so typical of operas. Misfortune, however, found its place in the performance of this evening's premiere. It was a romantically climactic moment. Fortunately, things had been made right with Mateo, and now that his secondary role was concluded, the bloat was no longer needed on stage. Now was time for the role of Arabella to truly shine.

Count Mandryck had so coincidentally mentioned earlier in the opera that in his country it was customary for a village girl to offer a cup of water to her lover, acknowledging that she agreed to be his wife. The beautiful Arabella asked for a glass of water to be taken to her room. Then she said goodbye and walked upstairs for bed.

At this point the music softened and moved in breadth. It was melancholy but gradually crescendo-ed into subtle tenderness. Arabella gently stepped down the steps back into the spotlight. She was carrying the glass of water of which she was soon to give to Mandryck.  What sparkling light reflected off of her makeup and gown.

Then, much more quickly then the moment had taken to produce, our beautiful Arabella lost her footing. Her graced turned into puppet-like stumbling, then tumbling down the steps. Ouch.

The sudden disruption surprised the conductor as he also lost his balance. Waving his arms now like reeds in the wind he too stumbled backwards off the conductors stand and into the floor level seating area. The orchestra burst into hysterical confusion; some violinists abruptly stopped playing while others continued off time and off tune. Finally the orchestra realized the catastrophe and halted playing.

Silence filled the auditorium. The poor vocalist, Arabella, rose to her feet. She was horrified. It was one of those suffocating silences where the audience sat in disbelief--everyone gasping for some bit of sound that would break the awkwardness.

From Box 3 came a chuckle and applause from a single set of hands. Franz Josef was delighted for he had been awakened from his boredom. Trying to hold back his laughter, he yelled, "Wunderbar!, Bravo!" To him, this was the first opera that was clearly inspirational and entertaining.

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