Arabella Synopsis

The Story of Richard Strauss' Opera, Arabella

Strauss, R. Arabella (München, 1952)
UweJuergens/ Wikimedia Commons

Arabella is a three-act opera composed by Richard Strauss. The opera premiered on July 1, 1933, in Sächsisches Staatstheater, Dresden and is set in Vienna during the 1860's. 

Arabella, ACT 1

In her family owned hotel, Countess Adelaide is visited by a fortuneteller within her suite. Concerned ​for her family's finances, she asks the fortuneteller to tell her what her future has in store. After the fortuneteller lays down the cards, the details of Adelaide's future is made known. It is revealed that Adelaide daughter, Arabella, will marry a wealthy older man, but before then, some form of trouble will befall them. What the fortune teller doesn't know is that Adelaide's "son", Zdenko, is actually a girl whose real name is Zdenka. Zdenka was raised as a boy, because Adelaide and her husband were unable to afford to raise a second girl, especially due to the high costs of weddings. While Adelaide has her fortune told, "Zdenko" has been busy warding off and chasing away creditors. When the fortuneteller departs, Adelaide retires for the evening. Matteo, who barely has a dollar to his name, arrives at the hotel, begging "Zdenko," his friend, to help him court Arabella. He doesn't know that Zdenka is just as much in love with him as he is with Adelaide. He threatens to kill himself if "Zdenko" doesn't help him. "Zdenko" assures him he will help and Matteo finally leaves. Moments later, Arabella arrives back in the hotel. Zdenka implores Arabella to give Matteo a chance, but she dismisses her. Arabella received three gifts, each from a different suitor: Counts Elemer, Dominik, and Lamoral. She tells Zdenka that she just hasn't found the right man yet, but he will eventually appear. Count Elemer arrives at the hotel and asks Arabella to accompany him on a sleigh ride. After accepting his offer, she rushes to her bedroom to change her clothes. While in her room, she spies a strange mad outside of her window. She tells Zdenka that she has fallen in love with him despite never meeting him. Meanwhile, Count Waldner enters his room and talks to Adelaide about their bills. His efforts at playing cards that day turned out to be a disappointment. Because of his anxiety, he tells Adelaide that he sent a picture of Arabella to an old rich friend named Mandryka hoping that he would marry her. Just as he tells Adelaide what he has done, Mandryka arrives at the hotel. However, it is Mandryka's young nephew with the same name who arrived. He read the letter addressed to his recently deceased uncle and fell in love with Arabella's picture. He lends a large sum of money to Count Waldner and tells him he would like to marry Arabella. Back in Arabella's room, she tells Zdenka that she is not pleased with her suitors. As they leave for the sleigh ride, Arabella is depressed. She decides to set her heart on the upcoming Coachman's Ball to lighten her mood.

Arabella, ACT 2

At the ball, Count Waldner arranges for Mandryka to meet with Arabella. Next to the beautiful grand staircase, the two strangers are finally introduced to one another. Arabella recognizes him as the man she spied outside her hotel window and is overwhelmed. Likewise for Mandryka, as he finally comes face to face with the woman whose picture with which he fell in love. When they are left alone, Mandryka tells Arabella that he was married once before, but his wife died. Arabella is sympathetic to him and falls in love with him even more. After he describes his customs, she agrees to marry him. Before they marry, she asks him to allow her to say thank you and goodbye to all of her former suitors. As she makes her way through the crowd, she passes Matteo without giving him any notice. Worried, Matteo confronts "Zdenko" and begins to doubt that he is helping him. "Zdenko" assures him that Arabella is very interested in him, and pulls out a key. "Zdenko" hands Matteo the key and tells him that Arabella will be waiting for him in her bedroom later that night. Mandryka, unfortunately, overhears their conversation and begins to think thoughts of jealousy. He drinks glass after glass of wine, becoming intoxicated, and begins flirting with several different women, including Countess Adelaide. Count Waldner takes notice of Mandryka's odd behavior and takes him back to the hotel.

Arabella, ACT 3

Matteo takes the key from his pocket and unlocks Arabella's bedroom door. Within the darkened room, he meets a young woman, who he thinks is Arabella, and the two make passionate love. Later, Matteo leaves the hotel and passes by Arabella in the lobby. The two begin a conversation that is completely misunderstood by one another, and confusion abounds. When Arabella's parents arrive with Mandrkya, things get even more out of control. Tempers are running high, and Mandrkya accuses Arabella of infidelity. Arabella vehemently denies the accusations, but Matteo chimes in claiming that they are madly in love. The issue is finally resolved when Zdenka runs down to the lobby in her negligee declaring what she has done. She was afraid that Matteo would kill himself, so she had relations with him. She is so ashamed of her actions, she shouts that proclaims suicide may be her only way out of this mess. However, her family forgives her and embraces her. Matteo realizes he loves her instead and they embrace. After things have calmed down and everyone returns to their rooms, Mandryka wonders if Arabella's feelings for him have changed. She meets him in the lobby and tells him that she still wants to marry him.

Other Popular Opera Synopses

Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor

Mozart's The Magic Flute

Verdi's Rigoletto

 Puccini's Madama Butterfly