Pittsburgh Festival Opera

Intimate opera theater. Pittsburgh Festival Opera presents innovative opera, producing American works, reinterpretations of older works, and new works, for the widest possible audience. The company focuses on diversity in programming and casting, on crossing boundaries and bringing together talents from all the arts, on encouraging new talent, and on broadening audiences through outreach and education, to create a body of work that is original, entertaining, contemporary and relevant.

Pittsburgh Festival Opera brings the power of world-class performances to humanize, energize and re-define opera as an experience that is up-close and personal, approachable, and relevant to today’s audiences. We break boundaries in the arts, bringing together audiences and artists of all backgrounds to engage in experiences that inspire and enthrall.

Our primary Summer Season occurs in June and July each year, but we also present a number of other events throughout the year. Our education programs engage pre-K, elementary and middle school, and emerging professional singers to emphasize the joy of telling stories through music.


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Slideshow photographs by Patti Brahim and John Bauerlein

News and Events

Our Richard Strauss Series continues with Arabella, the tenth of the composer’s fifteen operas and the last created in collaboration with the famed librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal.


We find ourselves in Vienna at Carnival time. The aging Count Waldner has two lovely daughters, but only enough money to launch the older one, Arabella, into society. His second daughter has to assume the identity of a son. But her desires remain those of a daughter… The resulting outrageous and uproarious events take place during a single twenty-four hour period beginning on Shrove Tuesday, Carnival in Vienna. A sparkling ball full of Strauss waltzes sets the stage for a romantic comedy of mistaken identities, secret love notes and passionate assignations.

Join the cast at the Opening Night Party with light fare immediately following the performance on Friday 20 July.



Sung in English with projected titles in English.

Arabella is a Pittsburgh premiere.

This production of Arabella is made possible through the generous support of:

  • Jerry Clack
  • William and Victoria Guy

Arabella is presented by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes Inc, publisher and copyright owner.

Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission. 





Production Credits

Music   Richard Strauss
Libretto   Hugo von Hofmannsthal
English Translation    John Gutman
Director    Dorothy Danner
Conductor    Brent McMunn
Assistant Conductor   Joseph Bozich
Pianist   Justin Pambianchi
Pianist   Richard Masters
Scenic Design   Kate Noll
Costume Design   Candy Callery
Lighting Design   Madeleine Steineck
Hair and Makeup Design   Jina Pounds
Assistant Director   Haley Stamats
Stage Manager   Kathleen Stakenas
Assistant Stage Managers   Louise Brownsberger 
    Morgan Lea Palmer 


Arabella   Melinda Whittington
Zdenka   Katie Manukyan
Count Waldner   Matthew Scollin
Adelaide   Danielle Wright
Mandryka   Andrew Cummings
Matteo   Mark Tempesta
Count Elemer   Robert Chafin
Count Dominik   Rob McGinness
Count Lamoral   Adam Cioffari
The Fiakermilli   Gyu Yeon Shim
A Fortune Teller   Vincentia Geraldine 
Hotel Porter    
Ensemble   ShayLyssa Alexander
    Asmik Arutyunyants
    Devan Balaguer
    Joel Balzun
    Sophia Emmanuel
    Lauren Fielder
    Mieczyslaw FitzDaniel
    Kaswanna Kanyinda
    Nick Krsnich
    Brenten Megee
    Jesse Preis
    Elisabeth Rosenberg
    Mia Skolnick

The Story

Act 1
The impoverished Count and Countess Waldner seek a rich suitor for their eldest daughter Arabella, and have disguised their younger daughter Zdenka as a boy to save money. Zdenka is in love with Matteo, one of Arabella’s admirers, and has written him letters in her sister’s name.

Arabella believes she will recognise ‘the right man’, and is curious about a stranger who has watched her outside the hotel. She agrees to choose a husband by the end of the Coachmen’s Ball that evening, and leaves for a sleigh-ride. Beset by creditors, the Count has written to a Croatian landowning friend, enclosing a photo of Arabella. The friend’s nephew and heir, Mandryka, announces himself. He is bewitched by Arabella’s portrait and has come to Vienna to woo her. The Count accepts Mandryka’s suit and a loan for the gambling tables.

Act 2

Viennese ball

At the ball, Arabella and Mandryka are attracted to each other—he is the stranger she had noticed. He describes a village custom in which a glass of water is offered by a maid to her betrothed to drink. She agrees to marry him, but begs a few hours to bid farewell to her youth. Arabella is proclaimed Queen of the Ball by Milli, the coachmen’s darling, and takes leave from each of her former suitors. Zdenka arranges an assignation with Matteo, luring him with a key to Arabella’s room. This is overheard by Mandryka, who notes Arabella’s departure and falls into a drunken fury, outraging the Countess with accusations of Arabella’s infidelity. The Waldners leave the ball and the Count commands Mandryka to follow.

Act 3
Back at the hotel, Matteo believes he has met with Arabella in her darkened bedroom, but in the foyer she is baffled by his allusions. Mandryka has lost his trust in Arabella, and in the growing confusion challenges Matteo to a fight. Zdenka appears in a nightdress and confesses her love for Matteo. Arabella seeks forgiveness from Mandryka and asks her father to bless the union of Zdenka and Matteo. Mandryka, alone, contemplates his feelings for Arabella and sends a glass of water to her room. She brings it down for him to drink, as a symbol of their love.


Program Notes

Arabella’s journey from novella to the operatic stage was a long one. Her first appearance dates from 1910 when Hugo von Hofmannsthal introduced her to the public as a somewhat doughty elder daughter in Lucidor—a fanciful tale he had written telling of a younger sister dressed as an eighteen year-old boy who succeeds in winning the affection of a young man by sending him love letters signed with Arabella’s name.

After completing Intermezzo, Strauss suggested to Hofmannsthal in 1923 that they collaborate on an opera which focused on ordinary people, light in texture, Viennese in feeling, and perhaps enhanced by waltzes. Early in their discussions they could not escape the thought that that they might be creating a second Rosenkavalier, but, as work progressed, it became evident that such an opera or operetta was quite a different matter.

At the same time Hofmannsthal was writing the libretto of The Egyptian Helen for Strauss, a delightful conceit and a fine example of “alternative facts” which had been promulgated in antiquity—specifically that Helen had never gone to Troy but had hidden herself in Egypt until the war was over. Hofmannsthal told the composer that several years before he had considered converting Lucidor into a vaudeville featuring a psychiatrist, an astrologer, and a palmist. He has entitled the effort The Coachman as Count and suggested that it might serve in some degree as a libretto.

Strauss agreed, and in late 1928, despite his declining health, Hofmannsthal produced a first draft of the libretto. Strauss asked only for a monologue for Arabella at the end of Act I. The request seems to have energized Hofmannsthal, who supplied Strauss with the scene, which became, when enriched by Strauss’ music, one of the most moving moments in the opera.

Tragically, the same day that Strauss sent him a congratulatory telegram celebrating the completion of the first act of Arabella, Hofmannsthal’s son Franz was buried. He had committed suicide. Within a week the father suffered a stroke and died.

Dresden Opera House
Dresden Opera House [Click to embiggen]

On hearing the news, Strauss was thrown into a state of depression. He had long ago realized that Hofmannsthal was indispensable to his operatic endeavors. However, the realist that he was, Strauss found solace in work and set himself almost immediately to the completion of Arabella. Out of respect for Hofmannsthal, he decided to make no changes in the libretto. His unwillingness to make alterations clearly contributed to some of the routine passages in the opera—especially in Act 2. They will be immediately evident to the listener.

Arabella was completed in October 1932. It was dedicated to Fritz Busch and to the musical director of the Dresden Opera, Joseph Gieland. Then came the elections and the shocking rise of the Nazis to power in January of 1933. Both dedicatees were summarily deposed and fled the country. Strauss was taken aback. He withdrew the score, but finally on the insistence of the Opera he agreed to the production, and the première took place on July 1, 1933 with Clemens Krauss as conductor. It was a moderate success, but it took some years before the public dismissed the unfounded assumption that Arabella was simply a warmed over Rosenkavalier. Today its popularity is second only to Der Rosenkavalier.

—Jerry Clack


Meet the Composer

Richard Strauss

[born Munich, 11 June 1864; died Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 8 Sept 1949]

Richard Strauss was born on 11 June 1864 in Munich, the son of Franz Strauss, who was the principal horn player at the Court Opera in Munich. In his youth, he received a thorough musical education from his father. He wrote his first composition at the age of six, and continued to write music almost until his death.

Richard Strauss portrait

During his boyhood Strauss attended orchestra rehearsals of the Munich Court Orchestra (now the Bavarian State Orchestra), and he also received private instruction in music theory and orchestration from an assistant conductor there. In 1872 he started receiving violin instruction at the Royal School of Music from Benno Walter, his father's cousin. In 1874 Strauss heard his first Wagner operas, Lohengrin and Tannhäuser. The influence of Wagner's music on Strauss's style was to be profound, but at first his musically conservative father forbade him to study it. Indeed, in the Strauss household, the music of Richard Wagner was viewed with deep suspicion, and it was not until the age of 16 that Strauss was able to obtain a score of Tristan und Isolde. In later life, Strauss said that he deeply regretted the conservative hostility to Wagner's progressive works. Nevertheless, Strauss's father undoubtedly had a crucial influence on his son's developing taste, not least in Strauss's abiding love for the horn, the instrument his father played.

In early 1882 in Vienna Strauss gave the first performance of his Violin Concerto in D minor, playing a piano reduction of the orchestral part himself, with his teacher and "cousin" Benno Walter as soloist. The same year he entered Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he studied Philosophy and Art History, but not music. He left a year later to go to Berlin, where he studied briefly before securing a post as assistant conductor to Hans von Bülow, who had been enormously impressed by the young composer's Serenade for wind instruments, composed when he was only 16 years of age. Strauss learned the art of conducting by observing Bülow in rehearsal. Bülow was very fond of the young man and decided that Strauss should be his successor as conductor of the Meiningen orchestra when Bülow resigned in 1885. Strauss's compositions at this time were indebted to the style of Robert Schumann or Felix Mendelssohn, true to his father's teachings. 

Strauss married soprano Pauline de Ahna on 10 September 1894. She was famous for being irascible, garrulous, eccentric and outspoken, but the marriage, to all appearances, was essentially happy and she was a great source of inspiration to him. Throughout his life, from his earliest songs to the final Four Last Songs of 1948, he preferred the soprano voice to all others, and all his operas contain important soprano roles.

Around the end of the 19th century, Strauss turned his attention to opera. His first two attempts in the genre, Guntram (1894) and Feuersnot (1901), were controversial works: Guntram was the first significant critical failure of Strauss's career, and Feuersnot was considered obscene by some critics.

In 1905, Strauss produced Salome, a somewhat dissonant modernist opera based on the play by Oscar Wilde, which produced a passionate reaction from audiences. The premiere was a major success, with the artists taking more than 38 curtain calls. Many later performances of the opera were also successful, not only with the general public but also with Strauss's peers: Maurice Ravel said that Salome was "stupendous", and Mahler described it as "a live volcano, a subterranean fire". Strauss reputedly financed his magnificent house in Garmisch-Partenkirchen completely from the revenues generated by the opera.

Strauss's next opera was Elektra (1909), which took his use of dissonance even further. Elektra was also the first opera in which Strauss collaborated with the poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal. The two subsequently worked together on numerous occasions. For his later works with Hofmannsthal, Strauss moderated his harmonic language: he used a more lush, melodic late-Romantic style based on Wagnerian chromatic harmonies that he had used in his tone poems, with much less dissonance, and exhibiting immense virtuosity in orchestral writing and tone color. This resulted in operas such as Der Rosenkavalier (1911) having great public success. Strauss continued to produce operas at regular intervals until 1942. With Hofmannsthal he created Ariadne auf Naxos (1912), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1918), Die ägyptische Helena (1927), and Arabella (1932). For Intermezzo (1923) Strauss provided his own libretto. Die schweigsame Frau (1934), was composed with Stefan Zweig as librettist; Friedenstag (1935–6) and Daphne (1937) both had a libretto by Joseph Gregor and Stefan Zweig; and Die Liebe der Danae (1940) was with Joseph Gregor. Strauss's final opera, Capriccio (1942), had a libretto by Clemens Krauss, although the genesis for it came from Stefan Zweig and Joseph Gregor.


Hugo von Hofmannsthal
[born Vienna, 1 Feb 1874; died Vienna, 15 July 1929] 
Hugo von Hofmannsthal was born into a cultured Viennese family. As a young man, he created a steady stream of poetry and other literary works that gained him a wide reputation as a writer of great skill with a mastery of form. 

He suffered a dry spell in his twenties after which he arrived at the ideal that a drama which presents life as it should be would inspire a cure for the moral ills of the populace in the new industrial society. Some of his plays, such as Jedermann and Der Turm emphasize this philosophy. 

In 1900, Hofmannsthal approached Richard Strauss with an idea for a ballet, Der Triumph der Zeit. It was not until six years later, however, that Strauss and Hofmannsthal would work together beginning with an adaptation of Sophocles’ Electra. Hofmannsthal would collaborate with Strauss for 23 years on six operas. At the time of his death, Strauss said of Hofmannsthal, “No musician ever found such a helper and supporter. No one will ever replace him for me or the world of music.” He achieved a level of wit, poetry, insight and form which few opera libretti before or since can claim.

—Created from Lyric Opera of Chicago materials and author Philip Seward


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