The heroine Luisa and "Carlo" fall in love but Carlo is really Rodolfo, the son of the powerful count Walter. In jealousy Wurma, the counts servant, revels the true identity of Carlo to Luisa's father Miller.
When Walter finds out of son's plans of marrying Luisa he feels he needs to intervene. Not only is Luisa just a farmers daughter, Walter also has plans for Rudolfo to marry the now wealthy duchess Frederica who has loved Rudolfo since he was a little boy.
The scene is set for a tragedy of love and jealousy. A tragedy that comes true.
(Spoiler below but in true Opera fashion, it's good to be aware of the whole story so that you can appreciate the music and the singing)
Rudolfo overhears Luisa denouncing her love for him and is in despair. He doesn't know that Luisa wasn't telling the truth, she was only trying to save her father that had been put into prison. Rudolfo is desperate and decides to poison both Luisa and himself. Only after Luisa finds out they are both beyond saving is she able to once again proclaim her love for him.
The wardrobe was very bizarre; if not ugly. It was a modernised, 80s wardrobe. Think yellow cardigans and light blue skirts for the girls, big shoulder suits and skinny ties for the men. This in turn did not work with very well with the story. Terms like castle, villagers, count, stables and servants.
One of the highlights for me was the fact that the orchestra was on the same level as you. Playing at a mere arms length away. Normally they would be tucked away somewhere below the stage but at Opera Holland Park you can watch them every moment.
The story is of the young girl Arabella who is choosing a future husband. She is not taking the matter seriously and is instead enjoying the game of flirting with several young men at the same time, without committing to any of them.
Her family is in current financial problems so the father (Count Waldner) is interested in finding a wealthy husband that could save the family. He sends a photograph of Arabella to the old and rich officer friend Mandryka. The photo reaches Mandryka's nephew, also called Mandryka, who is so taken by Arabella's beauty he decides to courtship her himself. He is in luck because Arabella immediately favours him.
Another deciding factor is Arabella's sister Zdenka who is brought up as a boy (Zdenko) to save the expense of bringing up a second girl. She secretly falls in love with the young officer Matteo, another of Arabella's suitors. Matteo does not believe he has much chance to win Arabella so he asks Zdenko for help or else threatens to shoot himself. Zdenka promises to do all in her power to help him out and is handing him letters written by her, but claiming to be written by Arabella.
The plot really thickens when Zdenka, in a desperate move, hands Matteo the key to Arabella's bedroom claiming that Arabella wants Matteo to visit her. Mandryka overhears this and is understandably disgusted. When the unknowing Arabella returns from a ball, she is confronted and what follows is very touching.
Arabella is the first opera in German that I have seen. During an Italian opera I normally don't understand anything and have to rely fully on the subtitles. Because I speak a bit German however, I was able to follow the dialogue a bit and this improved the experience a lot.
There was an interesting transformation in Arabella. She started of as a naive young girl playing with the men courtshipping her. In the end she accepts the responsibility and chooses a wealthy husband. Meanwhile, her sister Zdenka who starts of as being the wiser ends up making a foolish mistake and needs her grace to be saved.
The opera is set in Paris, circa 1840. Central characters are the four struggling artists painter Marcello, poet Rodolfo, Colline the philosopher and the musician Schaunard. Marcello has a jealous relationship with the popular cabaret singer Musetta while Rodolfo falls in love with the already dying Mimi.
Royal Albert Hall offers a big area for the stage and it was used well. The stage had a circular composition where sometimes the action was focused to the middle and other times things were happening in various parts of the stage. Something that would not have been possible at a traditional opera stage, e.g. at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London.
The biggest downfall of the performance is that it is sung in English. While I don't speak much Italian, an opera is always much more powerful in the original language. Especially such beautiful language as Italian. Further more, when an opera is sung in a foreign language, there are always subtitles that let one follow the dialog if necessary.
I have not seen many operas and am in no way an opera enthusiast but this piece speaks a universal language that any human being can understand. As such I would recommend it to a first time opera goer.
Funny how sorrow, despair and powerful music can make you feel alive and wanting to live.