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Richard Strauss: Arabella [Wiener Staatsoper/Welser-Most] Blu-ray Review

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Korean, Japanese
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
  • Studio: Electric Picture
  • Blu-ray Release Date: October 30, 2012
  • List Price: $29.99

Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:4/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0.5/5]

Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All TheaterByte screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

The Performance

[Rating:4/5]

Richard Strauss excelled in creating domestic comedies of manners and this 1933 work, Arabella, his last work with legendary librettist Hugo von Hofmanstahl, is typical of this genre. The Waldner family has two daughters but not enough money to provide the dowries for both to get married.  To solve this dilemma, the younger Waldner daughter, Zdenka (Genia Kuhmeier), is being raised as a boy, allowing older daughter, Arabella (Emily Magee), to be pursued by three suitors.  Zdenka loves the impoverished Matteo (Michael Schade) who, in turn, is in love with Arabella. As fate would have it, Arabella falls for a mysterious stranger, Mandryka (Tomasz Konieczny) the nephew of Count Waldner’s late friend.  At a holiday ball, Arabella and Mandryka meet and pledge their love. Zdenka arranges a tryst with Matteo in the hotel room next to Arabella’s, promising that he will meet Arabella in the room that evening. However, the room’s occupant will turn out to be Zdenka in disguise. At an awkward meeting later, Mandryka, accompanied by the Waldners, suspects Arabella of infidelity. The day is saved when Zdenka bursts in the room in her nightgown and reveals that it is she not Arabella who slept with Matteo. At the end, everything is reconciled and Arabella and Mandryka will be married.

There is no more authentic setting for this work than the Vienna State Opera, and its forces receive a caress from Viennese maestro Franz Welser-Most. While the 2012 production has updated the period from the 1860s to the 1930s, this does little to spoil the magic of the story. Strauss loved the soprano voice and here we get two of them as the sisters who deliver a “magic” moment duet (“Aber der Richtige”) in the first act. Casting down to the comprimario roles, like Arabella’s three suitors, is top notch. One should also be aware that this is filmed rather video HD disc (more about that later).

Video Quality

[Rating:3.5/5]

Electric Picture gives us an HD film rather than an HD video. The obvious consequences of this recording decision is a marked softening of details and noticeable motion artifact.  The picture is certainly acceptable in the set pieces when the singers are stationary. Your eyes will adjust but, in this day and age, and at premium prices, you deserve better than this.

Audio Quality

[Rating:4.5/5]

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is magnificent, given the huge scale of the orchestra, and the voices get a major boost since they must penetrate Strauss’s dense tonal fabric. There is warmth, depth, and decent ambience that is not as well captured by the PCM 2.0 version.

Supplemental Materials

[Rating:0.5/5]

Trailers are it.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

[Rating:3.5/5]

By way of full disclosure, I am an Arabella snob who has seen and heard the likes of Lisa della Casa, Kiri te Kanawa and Renee Fleming in the title role. Given the height of my personal bar, this performance, a BD premiere, will not erase memories of these previous stars although it did provide considerable pleasure for two and a half hours. The music is glorious and the singing, never less than sound and secure. Perhaps my greatest reservation comes from the casting of soprano Magee in the title role. She has the notes but just does not get airborne as the sweet bird of youth, looking not much younger than her mother Adelaide (Zoryana Kushpler). On the other hand, most younger singers could not handle the vocal demands of this role. Fortunately, Magee has stellar colleagues like baritone Konieczny and second soprano Kuhmeier.  The solid Viennese players also get hand-in-glove direction from maestro Welser-Most.  As a footnote to Electric Pictures, please give us HD video next time rather than film.

Additional Screen Captures

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Purchase Arabella on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

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Purchase Arabella on Blu-ray at CD Universe

Shop for more Blu-ray titles at Amazon.com

Overall
[Rating:3.5/5]
The Performance
[Rating:4/5]
Video Quality
[Rating:3.5/5]
Audio Quality
[Rating:4.5/5]
Supplemental Materials
[Rating:0.5/5]


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