Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Desert Island Delights at the RCM: Offenbach's Robinson Crusoe

Britannia waives the rules: The EU Brexit in quotes’. Such was the headline of a BBC News feature on 28th June 2016. And, nearly three years later, those who watch the runaway Brexit-train hurtle ever nearer to the edge of Dover’s white cliffs might be tempted by the thought of leaving this sceptred (sceptic?) isle, for a life overseas.

Akira Nishimura’s Asters: A Major New Japanese Opera

Opened as recently as 1997, the Opera House of the New National Theatre Tokyo (NNTT) is one of the newest such venues among the world’s great capitals, but, with ten productions of opera a year, ranging from baroque to contemporary, this publicly-owned and run theatre seems determined to make an international impact.

The Outcast in Hamburg

It is a “a musicstallation-theater with video” that had its world premiere at the Mannheim Opera in 2012, revived just now in a new version by Vienna’s ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wein for one performance at the Vienna Konzerthaus and one performance in Hamburg’s magnificent Elbphilharmonie (above). Olga Neuwirth’s The Outcast and this rich city are imperfect bedfellows!

Monarchs corrupted and tormented: ETO’s Idomeneo and Macbeth at the Hackney Empire

Promises made to placate a foe in the face of imminent crisis are not always the most well-considered and have a way of coming back to bite one - as our current Prime Minister is finding to her cost.

Der Fliegende Holländer and
Tannhäuser in Dresden

To remind you that Wagner’s Dutchman had its premiere in Dresden’s Altes Hoftheater in 1843 and his Tannhauser premiered in this same theater in 1845 (not to forget that Rienzi premiered in this Saxon court theater in 1842).

WNO's The Magic Flute at the Birmingham Hippodrome

A perfect blue sky dotted with perfect white clouds. Identikit men in bowler hats clutching orange umbrellas. Floating cyclists. Ferocious crustaceans.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria: Antonio Pappano and the London Symphony Orchestra

This was an oddly fascinating concert - though, I’m afraid, for quite the wrong reasons (though this depends on your point of view). As a vehicle for the sound, and playing, of the London Symphony Orchestra it was a notable triumph - they were not so much luxurious - rather a hedonistic and decadent delight; but as a study into three composers, who wrote so convincingly for opera, and taken somewhat out of their comfort zone, it was not a resounding success.

WNO's Un ballo in maschera at Birmingham's Hippodrome

David Pountney and his design team - Raimund Bauer (sets), Marie-Jeanne Lecca (costumes), Fabrice Kebour (lighting) - have clearly ‘had a ball’ in mounting this Un ballo in maschera, the second part of WNO’s Verdi trilogy and which forms part of a spring season focusing on what Pountney describes as the “profound and mysterious issue of Monarchy”.

Super #Superflute in North Hollywood

Pacific Opera Project’s rollicking new take on The Magic Flute is as much endearing fun as a box full of puppies.

Leading Ladies: Barbara Strozzi and Amiche

I couldn’t help wondering; would a chamber concert of vocal music by female composers of the 17th century be able sustain our concentration for 90 minutes? Wouldn’t most of us be feeling more dutiful than exhilarated by the end?

George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill at Wigmore Hall

This week, the Wigmore Hall presents two concerts from George Benjamin and Frankfurt’s Ensemble Modern, the first ‘at home’ on Wigmore Street, the second moving north to Camden’s Roundhouse. For the first, we heard Benjamin’s now classic first opera, Into the Little Hill, prefaced by three ensemble works by Cathy Milliken, Christian Mason, and, for the evening’s spot of ‘early music’, Luigi Dallapiccola.

Marianne Crebassa sings Berio and Ravel: Philharmonia Orchestra with Salonen

It was once said of Cathy Berberian, the muse for whom Luciano Berio wrote his Folk Songs, that her voice had such range she could sing the roles of both Tristan and Isolde. Much less flatteringly, was my music teacher’s description of her sound as akin to a “chisel being scraped over sandpaper”.

Rossini's Elizabeth I: English Touring Opera start their 2019 spring tour

What was it with Italian bel canto and the Elizabethan age? The era’s beautiful, doomed queens and swash-buckling courtiers seem to have held a strange fascination for nineteenth-century Italians.

Chameleonic new opera featuring Caruso in Amsterdam

Micha Hamel’s new opera, Caruso a Cuba, is constantly on the move. The chameleonic score takes on a myriad flavours, all with a strong sense of mood or place.

Ernst Krenek: Karl V, Bayerisches Staatsoper

Ernst Krenek’s Karl V op 73 at the Bayerisches Staatsoper, with Bo Skovhus, conducted by Erik Nielsen, in a performance that reveals the genius of Krenek’s masterpiece. Contemporary with Schreker’s Die Gezeichneten, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron, Berg’s Lulu, and Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler, Krenek’s Karl V is a metaphysical drama, exploring psychological territory with the possibilities opened by new musical form.

A Sparkling Merry Widow at ENO

A small, formerly great, kingdom, is on the verge of bankruptcy and desperate to prevent its ‘assets’ from slipping into foreign hands. Sexual and political intrigues are bluntly exposed. The princes and patriarchs are under threat from both the ‘paupers’ and the ‘princesses’, and the two dangers merge in the glamorous figure of the irresistibly wealthy Pontevedrin beauty, Hanna Glawari, a working-class girl who’s married up and made good.

Mozart: Così fan tutte - Royal Opera House

Così fan tutte is, primarily, an ensemble opera and it sinks or swims on the strength of its sextet of singers - and this performance very much swam. In a sense, this is just as well because Jan Phillip Gloger’s staging (revived here by Julia Burbach) is in turns messy, chaotic and often confusing. The tragedy of this Così is that it’s high art clashing with Broadway; a theatre within an opera and a deceit wrapped in a conundrum.

Gavin Higgins' The Monstrous Child: an ROH world premiere

The Royal Opera House’s choice of work for the first new production in the splendidly redesigned Linbury Theatre - not unreasonably, it seems to have lost ‘Studio’ from its name - is, perhaps, a declaration of intent; it may certainly be received as such. Not only is it a new work; it is billed specifically as ‘our first opera for teenage audiences’.

Elektra at Lyric Opera of Chicago

From the first moments of the recent revival of Sir David McVicar’s production of Elektra by Richard Strauss at Lyric Opera of Chicago the audience is caught in the grip of a rich music-drama, the intensity of which is not resolved, appropriately, until the final, symmetrical chords.

Expressive Monteverdi from Les Talens Lyriques at Wigmore Hall

This was an engaging concert of madrigals and dramatic pieces from (largely) Claudio Monteverdi’s Venetian years, a time during which his quest to find the ‘natural way of imitation’ - musical embodiment of textual form, meaning and affect - took the form not primarily of solo declamation but of varied vocal ensembles of two or more voices with rich instrumental accompaniments.

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):