From the programme booklet
Arabella – The Synopsis
Vienna, around 1860. The impoverished Count Waldner and his wife Adelaide have taken up residence at a luxurious hotel, in an attempt to secure a wealthy marriage for their daughter Arabella.
A fortune-teller, from whom Adelaide hopes to learn about the prospects of her plan, uncovers the family’s big lie: the Waldners are presenting Zdenka, their second daughter, to the world as Arabella’s brother “Zdenko”.
Zdenka’s disguise in men’s clothing is intended to save the family money, as it means only Arabella must be outfitted with a sumptuous wardrobe. The result, however, also makes Zdenka doubt her own identity: “I don’t want to be a woman like you.”
Among the many suitors for Arabella’s hand is the officer Matteo, who has a special relationship with “Zdenko”. Their friendship hides Zdenka’s secret love for Matteo.
While Zdenka bemoans her fate, Arabella longs for a stranger she has glimpsed on the street. This is Mandryka, the nephew of an old regimental comrade of Count Waldner. A photograph of Arabella which Waldner sent to his uncle has lured him to Vienna. Count Waldner is delighted at the generous suitor and decides to set him up with his daughter.
At a ball. Arabella and Mandryka meet for the first time under her family’s eyes. During the course of a long night, they discover different sides of each other’s character.
While Arabella, whom the licentious Fiaker-Milli has declared queen of the coachmen’s ball, emancipates herself increasingly from her role as a subservient woman, Mandryka, the supposed Prince Charming, reveals his insecure, choleric side.
When he overhears Zdenka passing Matteo a room key to lure him to her hotel room – under the pretence that it is Arabella who would meet him there – jealousy drives Mandryka into a rage, and he turns abusive against Fiaker-Milli.
“Zdenko” and Matteo spend the night together. When Matteo meets Arabella afterwards, the situation spins out of control. Matteo claims publicly that it could only have been Arabella he made love to in the darkened room. Waldner and Mandryka demand satisfaction.
Only Zdenka’s intervention prevents the worst. Before all those assembled, she reveals her true identity. And Matteo publicly confesses: “And yet, it seems to me I knew from the very start, my sweet little Zdenko!”
The relationship between Arabella and Mandryka, on the other hand, requires renegotiating after all that has passed.