Arabella - Synopsis

Richard Strauss: Arabella Richard Strauss: Arabella Richard Strauss: Arabella


Richard Strauss
Hugo von Hofmannsthal


Act One

Graf Waldner, who is a gambler and in debt from losing heavily, is staying in a hotel in Vienna with his wife, Adelaide, and his daughters Arabella and Zdenka. The family cannot afford to have two daughters coming out into society at the same time, and Zdenka is therefore dressed as a boy in public and goes by the name of Zdenko. The only way in which the family’s financial situation can be improved seems to be in finding a rich husband for Arabella. She has three suitors, Graf Elemer, Graf Dominik and Graf Lamoral.

Adelaide has her fortune told and the fortune-teller prophesies that there will be further financial losses to be faced but also that a rich stranger will ask for Arabella’s hand in marriage. At the same time she warns Adelaide that Zdenka is planning an intrigue which will result in an officer challenging someone to a duel and might destroy the couple’s happiness.

Matteo, a young officer who is in love with Arabella, threatens to kill himself if Arabella continues to ignore his suit. Zdenka, who is secretly in love with Matteo, tries to comfort him by promising him that Arabella is writing him a letter containing avowals of her affection. In fact Zdenka herself has been writing to Matteo for some time, in Arabella’s name, in order to make him happy.

Zdenka appeals to Arabella to return Matteo’s love, but Arabella remains unmoved by her pleading. She firmly believes that one day the right man will come along and that she will know immediately that he is the right man and will fall in love. That very morning she has caught sight of a stranger whose face she cannot forget.

Waldner has lost the last of his money at the gambling table. A servant announces that a stranger has called to see Graf Waldner. It turns out to be Mandryka, a rich landowner, the nephew of one of Waldner’s old regimental comrades who has died. The young man has found a letter from Waldner, containing a picture of Arabella, among his uncle’s papers and fallen in love with her. Quite overwhelmed by all the money Mandryka has showered on him, Waldner sees his financial situation as being secure for the future and agrees to give Mandryka Arabella’s hand in marriage.


Act Two

Mandryka and Arabella are introduced at the Fiaker Ball, and Mandryka tells Arabella all about the country he comes from and that it is customary there for the bride-to-be to hand her future husband a glass of clear water on the evening of their engagement. Arabella is certain that Mandryka is the ›right man‹ she has been looking for. She will follow him to his estate in his own country. She asks, however, to be allowed, as queen of the ball, to spend the evening saying farewell to the people and things which have been part of her life so far.

The ›Fiaker Milli‹ and Arabella’s three suitors sing in her honour. Matteo is unhappy about Arabella’s seeming heartlessness. Zdenka secretly hands him the letter she had promised him and tells him to come to Arabella’s room, where his beloved will supposedly be awaiting him.

Mandryka sees Matteo being given the key to Arabella’s room and feels that he has been cheated. He is filled with jealousy and when he sees that his fiancée is no longer among the guests he throws himself wildly into enjoying the pleasures of the ball. Waldner is horrified at the outlandish way in which Mandryka is behaving; for his part Mandryka accuses Arabella of being unfaithful. In a state of great excitement the family goes off to the hotel to see whether his suspicions are correct.


Act Three

In the hotel, Matteo chances upon Arabella as she returns from the ball; she again spurns his attentions and is very cool towards him. He does not realize that it is her sister, Zdenka, with whom he has just had a rendezvous. At this juncture Mandryka, Adelaide and Waldner enter the hotel. Mandryka believes that all his suspicions have been confirmed and wants to leave immediately. Arabella protests her innocence, but in vain. Mandryka challenges Matteo to a duel, as he interprets the latter’s silence as proof of Arabella’s guilt. Zdenka suddenly appears, this time dressed as a girl, and admits that she is the one who has received Matteo in Arabella’s room. Mandryka realizes his mistake and persuades Waldner to allow Matteo and Zdenka to marry.

Mandryka remains alone, dejected, chastising himself for his unjustified suspicions. Arabella comes in and offers him a glass of clear water as a sign that she still loves him.

Translation: Susan Bollinger
© Bayerische Staatsoper