Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Prom 54 - Mozart's Last Year with the Budapest Festival Orchestra

The mysteries and myths surrounding Mozart’s Requiem Mass - left unfinished at his death and completed by his pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr - abide, reinvigorated and prolonged by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus as directed on film by Miloš Forman. The origins of the work’s commission and composition remain unknown but in our collective cultural and musical consciousness the Requiem has come to assume an autobiographical role: as if Mozart was composing a mass for his own presaged death.

High Voltage Tosca in Cologne

I saw two operas consecutively at Oper Koln. First, the utterly bewildering Lucia di Lammermoor; then Thilo Reinhardt’s thrilling Tosca. His staging was pure operatic joy with some Hitchcockian provocations.

Haitink at the Lucerne Festival

Bernard Haitink’s monumental Bruckner and Mahler performances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO) got me hooked on classical music. His legendary performance of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 8 in C-minor, where in the Finale loosened plaster fell from the Concertgebouw ceiling, is still recounted in Amsterdam.

BBC Prom 45 - Janáček: The Makropulos Affair

Karita Mattila was born to sing Emilia Marty, the diva around whom revolves Leoš Janáček's The Makropulos Affair (Věc Makropulos). At Prom 45, she shone all the more because she was conducted by Jirí Belohlávek and performed alongside a superb cast from the National Theatre, Prague, probably the finest and most idiomatic exponents of this repertoire.

Two Tales of Offenbach: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

‘Two outrageous operas in one crazy evening,’ reads the bill. Hyperbole? Certainly not when the operas are two of Jacques Offenbach’s more off-the-wall bouffoneries and when the company is Opera della Luna whose artistic director, Jeff Clarke, is blessed with the comic imagination and theatrical nous to turn even the most vacuous trivia into a sharp and sassy riotous romp.

Britten Untamed! Glyndebourne: A Midsummer Night's Dream

This performance of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at Glyndebourne was so good that it was the highlight of the whole season, making the term ‘revival’ utterly irrelevant. Jakub Hrůša is always stimulating, but on this occasion, his conducting was so inspired that I found myself closing my eyes in order to concentrate on what he revealed in Britten's quirky but brilliant score. Eyes closed in this famous production by Peter Hall, first seen in 1981?

Salzburg encores

A staged piano recital and an opera as a concert.  Pianist András Schiff accompanied the Salzburg Marionette Theater at the Mozarteum Grosser Saal and Anna Netrebko sang Manon Lescaut at the Grosses Festspielhaus.

Leah Crocetto at Santa Fe

On August 4, 2016, soprano Leah Crocetto and accompanist Tamara Sanikidze gave a recital at the Scottish Rite Center in Santa Fe New Mexico. A winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions and the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, this year Crocetto was singing Donna Anna in Santa Fe Opera’s excellent Don Giovanni.

Angela Meade at Sante Fe

On July 31, 2016, against the ethereal beauty of the main hall in the Scottish Rite Center, soprano Angela Meade and pianist Joe Illick gave a recital offering both opera and art songs ranging in origin from early nineteenth century Europe to mid twentieth century America. Many in the audience probably remembered Meade’s recent excellent portrayal of Norma at Los Angeles Opera.

Turco in Italia in Pesaro

When more is definitely more, and less would indeed be less. Two of the biggest names in Italian theater art collide in an eponymous theater.

Proms Chamber Music 5: Shakespeare at 400

It was the fifth Proms Chamber Music concert at Cadogan Hall this season, and we were celebrating Shakespeare’s 400th. And, given the extent and range of the composers and artists, and the diversity and profundity of the musical achievement inspired by the Bard, we could probably keep celebrating in this fashion ad infinitum.

La donna del lago in Pesaro

Each August the bleak and leaky, 12,000 seat Arena Adriatica (home of the famed Pesaro basketball team) magically transforms itself into an improvised opera house that boasts the ultimate in opera chic — exemplary Rossini production standards for its now twelve hundred seats.

Proms at … Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

This highly enjoyable Prom, part of 2016’s ‘Proms at …’ mini-series, took as its guiding concept the reopening of London’s theatres following the Restoration, focusing in particular upon musical and dramatic responses to Shakespeare. Purcell, rightly, loomed large, with John Blow and Matthew Locke joining him. Receiving their Proms premieres were the excerpts from Timon of Athens and those from Locke’s The Tempest.

Santa Fe: Straussian Sweet Nothings

With all the bombast of the presidential campaigns rattling in our heads, with invectives being exchanged and measured discussion all but absent, how utterly lovely to retreat and relax into the harmonious soundscape and well-reasoned debate posed in Strauss’ Capriccio, on magnificent display at Santa Fe Opera.

Santa Fe’s Civil War Gounod

When we entered the Crosby Theatre for Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette the stage was surprisingly dominated by a somber, semi-circular black mausoleum, many chambers inscribed with scrambled names of US Civil War era dead.

Coolly Elegant Vanessa in the Desert

Molten passions were seething just below the icy Nordic exterior of Santa Fe Opera’s wholly masterful production of Barber’s Vanessa.

Le Comte Ory, Seattle

Farce is probably the most difficult of dramatic comedy sub-genres to put across. A farce got up in the stately robes of opera sets its presenters an even higher bar. Presenting an operatic farce on a notoriously chilly and cavernous auditorium is to risk catastrophe.

Racette’s Golden Girl in New Mexico

Fan interest began raging when Santa Fe Opera engaged venerable artist Patricia Racette to make her role debut as Minnie in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Santa Fe’s Mozart Cast Sweeps All Before It

A funny thing happened on the way to Andalusia.

Die Liebe der Danae in Salzburg

The tale of a Syrian donkey driver. And, yes, the donkey stole the show! The competition was intense — the Vienna Philharmonic and the Grosses Festspielhaus in full production regalia for starters.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Torsten Kerl (Paul) [Photo by Terrence McCarthy]
03 Oct 2008

Die tote Stadt at San Francisco Opera

Korngold’s third opera Die tote Stadt premiered in 1920 in Cologne, the composer a mere 23 years old. Back then, opera remained a living art form, with the likes of Strauss and Puccini keeping the public excited about new works.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Die tote Stadt

Paul (Torsten Kerl), Marie/Marietta (Emily Magee), Fritz, Frank (Lucas Meachem), Brigitta (Katharine Tier), Juliette (Ji Young Yang), Lucienne (Daniela Mack), Victorin (Alek Shrader), Count Albert (Andrew Bidlack), Gaston (Bryan Ketron), Paul's Double (Ben Bongers). Conductor: Donald Runnicles. Original Director: Willy Decker. Revival Director: Meisje Hummel.

Above: Torsten Kerl as Paul

All photos by Terrence McCarthy

 

Korngold’s third opera Die tote Stadt premiered in 1920 in Cologne, the composer a mere 23 years old. Back then, opera remained a living art form, with the likes of Strauss and Puccini keeping the public excited about new works. The Met, not wanting to miss out on any of the excitement, immediately grabbed this odd piece for its American premiere only a year later. Korngold’s next opera Das Wunder der Heliane premiered in Hamburg in 1927 but its generic musicality and moralistic satire failed to ignite enthusiasm on either side of the Atlantic. Never mind though, it was time to write movie music.

After its initial Met performances, Die tote Stadt had to wait more than fifty years to again seduce American audiences with the heavy nostalgia that permeates Korngold’s score. This time it was a brave excursion into rare but revered repertory by America’s only adventurous company of the time, the New York City Opera, where the 1975 Frank Corsaro staging remained in its repertory until 2006. San Franciscans had to wait even longer for Korngold’s enigmatic work.

Die tote Stadt is a masterpiece, at least in the hands of a stage director able to superimpose the real and the imaginary, of an indulgent conductor able to sustain its unending waltzes and revivals of a single tune, of a tenor able to sing loud and long and high, and of a soprano able to do the same as well as impersonate a cabaret dancer. All this the San Francisco Opera brought over to us from the Salzburg Festival where it originated in 2004, with a brief stop in Vienna to pick up soprano Emily Magee.

Die tote Stadt is a tour de force for everyone involved. The formidable role of Paul, the bereaved husband of the dead Marie, belongs these days to Torsten Kerl, who continues on to London with this superb Willy Decker production. Frank, Paul’s friend and finally rival for the attentions of the dancer Marietta, is the third of the opera’s formidable roles, particularly as it is tied to the Pierrot song and antics of Fritz who taunts Paul in Marietta’s cruel commedia dell’arte improvisation on death and resurrection. The staging of this complicated scene (as well with the entire opera) was entrusted to and effectively realized by Meisje Hummel, an assistant for the Salzburg premiere.

Marietta.pngEmily Magee (Marietta)
There is no doubt that the piece casts its spell from the first note. The San Francisco audience gave its immediate and full attention to Korngold’s rich sound, conductor Donald Runnicles lovingly pulling forth its thick and weighty sonorities from San Francisco Opera orchestra. The big tune from the opera, “Marietta’s Lied” comes fairly early but it is really a duet for Paul and Marietta (though it is far better known as a stand alone concert aria for soprano), and this tune comes back many, many times, finally as Paul’s wrenching farewell to his dead wife.

The message of Die tote Stadt is simple – there is no resurrection. It is a plain statement, unadorned with philosophic and religious implications, forcefully presented with the full resources of the post Romantic orchestra with expanded percussion. The Willy Decker production assumes equal proportion in a conception that sometimes juxtaposes and other times superimposes Paul’s present upon Paul’s past, resulting in a confusion of life with dream that brings a whirling corporealness to what is cold and dead. These are the brilliant designs of Wolfgang Gussmann whose black boxes and shadowy abysses inhabited by Decker’s real people and by their shadows. The production means are both enormous and delicately expended.

TroupMarie.pngPaul and troupe

Donald Runncles resonated mightily with Korngold’s over-the-top sonorities. Torsten Kerl is justifiably famous for the role of Paul. Emily Magee brought impeccable musical taste and character dimensionality as the nemesis of the dead wife. San Francisco Opera’s particular contributions to its performances of the Decker production were adequate. The Frank of Lucas Meachem fulfilled the formidable needs of this role, though it lacked the weight as antagonist to counter balance the musical and dramatic personalities of the production’s protagonists. The Brigitta of Katharine Tier was similarly out of balance. The well-performed commedia scene added enormously to the many pleasures of this production.

Michael Milenski

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):