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

Così fan tutte at Covent Garden

Desire and deception; Amor and artifice. In Jan Philipp Gloger’s new production of Così van tutte at the Royal Opera House, the artifice is of the theatrical, rather than the human, kind. And, an opera whose charm surely lies in its characters’ amiable artfulness seems more concerned to underline the depressing reality of our own deluded faith in human fidelity and integrity.

Plácido Domingo as Macbeth, LA Opera

On September 22, 2016, Los Angeles Opera presented Darko Tresnjak’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Macbeth. Verdi and Francesco Maria Piave based their opera on Shakespeare’s play of the same name.

The Rake’s Progress: an Opera for Our Time

On September 18th, at a casual Sunday matinee, Pacific Opera Project presented a surprising choice for a small company. It was Igor Stravinsky’s 1951 three act opera, The Rake’s Progress. It’s a piece made for today's supertitles with its exquisitely worded libretto by W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman.

Classical Opera: Haydn's La canterina

We are nearing the end of Classical Opera’s MOZART 250 sojourn through 1766, a year that the company’s artistic director Ian Page admits was ‘on face value … a relatively fallow year’. I’m not so sure: Jommelli’s Il Vogoleso, performed at the Cadogan Hall in April, was a gem. But, then, I did find the repertoire that Classical Opera offered at the Wigmore Hall in January, ‘worthy rather than truly engaging’ (review). And, this programme of Haydn and his Czech contemporary Josef Mysliveček was stylishly executed but did not absolutely convince.

Dream of the Red Chamber in San Francisco

Globalization finds its way ever more to San Francisco Opera where Italian composer Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara saw the light of day in 2015 and now, 2016, Chinese composer Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber has been created.

San Diego Opera Opens with Recital by Piotr Beczala

Renowned Polish tenor Piotr Beczala and well-known collaborative pianist Martin Katz opened the San Diego Opera 2016–2017 season with a recital at the Balboa Theater on Saturday, September 17th.

Andrea Chénier at San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera makes occasional excursions into the operatic big-time, such just now was Giordano’s blockbuster Andrea Chénier, last seen at the War Memorial 23 years ago (1992) and even then after a hiatus of 17 years (1975).

A rousing I due Foscari at the Concertgebouw

There is no reason why, given the right performers, second-tier Verdi can’t be a top-tier operatic experience, as was the case with this concert version of I Due Foscari.

A double dose of Don Quixote at the Wigmore Hall

Since their first appearance in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s literary master-piece, during the Spanish Golden Age, the ingenuous and imaginative knight-errant, Don Quixote, and his loyal subordinate and squire, Sancho Panza, have touched the creative imagination of composers from Salieri to Strauss, Boismortier to Rodrigo.

Bampton Classical Opera: A double bill of divine comedies

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2016 double-bill ‘touched down’ at St John’s Smith Square last night, following performances in The Deanery Garden at Bampton and The Orangery of Westonbirt School earlier this summer.

Mahler’s Second, Concertgebouw

Daniele Gatti opened the first series of Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra’s season with a slightly uneven performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. With four planned, this staple repertoire for the RCO meant to introduce Gatti to the RCO subscribers.

Mad About San Jose’s Lucia

Opera San Jose opened a commendably impassioned Lucia di Lammermoor that sets the company’s bar very high indeed as it begins its new season.

ROH, Norma

The approach of the 2016-17 opera season has brought rising anticipation and expectation for the ROH’s new production - the first at Covent Garden for almost 30 years - of Bellini’s bel canto master-piece, Norma.

The Changing of the Guard

Last June, Riccardo Chailly led the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion for his last concert as Principal Conductor.

Morgen und Abend at Berlin

After its world premiere at Royal Opera House in London last year, the German première of Georg Friedrich Haas’s Morgen und Abend took place at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Der Freischütz at Unter den Linden

Rarely have I experienced such fabulous singing in such a dreadful production. With magnificent voices, Andreas Schager and Dorothea Röschmann rescued Michael Thalheimer’s grotesque staging of von Weber’s Der Freischütz. At Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Alexander Soddy led a richly detailed, transparent and brilliantly glowing Berliner Staatskapelle.

Prom 74: Verdi's Requiem

For the penultimate BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall on Friday 9 September 2016, Marin Alsop conducted the BBC Youth Choir and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in Verdi's Requiem with soloists Tamara Wilson, Alisa Kolosova, Dimitri Pittas, and Morris Robinson.

British Youth Opera: English Eccentrics

“Eccentricity is not, as dull people would have us believe, a form of madness. It is often a kind of innocent pride, and the man of genius and the aristocrat are frequently regarded as eccentrics because genius and aristocrat are entirely unafraid of and uninfluenced by the opinions and vagaries of the crowd.”

Prom 68: a wonderful Semiramide

When I look back on the 2016 Proms season, this Opera Rara performance of Semiramide - the last opera that Rossini wrote for Italy - will be, alongside Pekka Kuusisto’s thrillingly free and refreshing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto - one of the stand-out moments.

Double Bill by Oper am Rhein

Of all the places in Germany, Oper am Rhein at Theater Duisburg staged an intriguing American double bill of rarities. An experience that was well worth the trip to this desolate ghost town, remnant of industrial West Germany.

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):