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 Reviews

London Handel Festival: Handel's Faramondo at the RCM

Written at a time when both his theatrical business and physical health were in a bad way, Handel’s Faramondo was premiered at the King’s Theatre in January 1738, fared badly and sank rapidly into obscurity where it languished until the late-twentieth century.

Brahms A German Requiem, Fabio Luisi, Barbican London

Fabio Luisi conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in Brahms A German Requiem op 45 and Schubert, Symphony no 8 in B minor D759 ("Unfinished").at the Barbican Hall, London.

Káťa Kabanová in its Seattle début

The atmosphere was a bit electric on February 25 for the opening night of Leoš Janàček’s 1921 domestic tragedy, and not entirely in a good way.

Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017

Applications are now open for the Bampton Classical Opera Young Singers’ Competition 2017. This biennial competition was first launched in 2013 to celebrate the company’s 20th birthday, and is aimed at identifying the finest emerging young opera singers currently working in the UK.

Festival Mémoires in Lyon

Each March France's splendid Opéra de Lyon mounts a cycle of operas that speak to a chosen theme. Just now the theme is Mémoires -- mythic productions of famed, now dead, late 20th century stage directors. These directors are Klaus Michael Grüber (1941-2008), Ruth Berghaus (1927-1996), and Heiner Müller (1929-1995).

Handel's Partenope: surrealism and sensuality at English National Opera

Handel’s Partenope (1730), written for his first season at the King’s Theatre, is a paradox: an anti-heroic opera seria. It recounts a fictional historic episode with a healthy dose of buffa humour as heroism is held up to ridicule. Musicologist Edward Dent suggested that there was something Shakespearean about Partenope - and with its complex (nonsensical?) inter-relationships, cross-dressing disguises and concluding double-wedding it certainly has a touch of Twelfth Night about it. But, while the ‘plot’ may seem inconsequential or superficial, Handel’s music, as ever, probes the profundities of human nature.

Christoph Prégardien and Julius Drake at the Wigmore Hall

The latest instalment of Wigmore Hall’s ambitious two-year project, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by German tenor Christoph Prégardien and pianist Julius Drake.

La Tragédie de Carmen at San Diego

On March 10, 2017, San Diego Opera presented an unusual version of Georges Bizet’s Carmen called La Tragédie de Carmen (The Tragedy of Carmen).

Kasper Holten's farewell production at the ROH: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

For his farewell production as director of opera at the Royal Opera House, Kasper Holten has chosen Wagner’s only ‘comedy’, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: an opera about the very medium in which it is written.

AZ Musicfest Presents Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci

The dramatic strength that Stage Director Michael Scarola drew from his Pagliacci cast was absolutely amazing. He gave us a sizzling rendition of the libretto, pointing out every bit of foreshadowing built into the plot.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a lesson in Patience

A skewering of the preening pretentiousness of the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetes of the late-nineteenth century, Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1881 operetta Patience outlives the fashion that fashioned it, and makes mincemeat of mincing dandies and divas, of whatever period, who value style over substance, art over life.

Tara Erraught: mezzo and clarinet in partnership at the Wigmore Hall

Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught demonstrated a relaxed, easy manner and obvious enjoyment of both the music itself and its communication to the audience during this varied Rosenblatt Series concert at the Wigmore Hall. Erraught and her musical partners for the evening - clarinettist Ulrich Pluta and pianist James Baillieu - were equally adept at capturing both the fresh lyricism of the exchanges between voice and clarinet in the concert arias of the first half of the programme and clinching precise dramatic moods and moments in the operatic arias that followed the interval.

Opera Across the Waves

This Sunday the Metropolitan Opera will feature as part of the BBC Radio 3 documentary, Opera Across the Waves, in which critic and academic Flora Willson explores how opera is engaging new audiences. The 45-minute programme explores the roots of global opera broadcasting and how in particular, New York’s Metropolitan Opera became one of the most iconic and powerful producers of opera.

Premiere: Riders of the Purple Sage

On February 25, 2017, in Tucson and on the following March 3 in Phoenix, Arizona Opera presented its first world premiere, Craig Bohmler and Steven Mark Kohn’s Riders of the Purple Sage.

English Touring Opera Spring 2017: a disappointing Tosca

During the past few seasons, English Touring Opera has confirmed its triple-value: it takes opera to the parts of the UK that other companies frequently fail to reach; its inventive, often theme-based, programming and willingness to take risks shine a light on unfamiliar repertory which invariably offers unanticipated pleasures; the company provides a platform for young British singers who are easing their way into the ‘industry’, assuming a role that latterly ENO might have been expected to fulfil.

A Winter's Tale: a world premiere at English National Opera

The first production of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera, based upon Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is clearly a major event in English National Opera’s somewhat trimmed-down season. Wigglesworth, who serves also as conductor and librettist, professes to have been obsessed with the play for more than twenty years, and one can see why The Winter’s Tale, with its theatrical ‘set-pieces’ - the oracle scene, the tempest, the miracle of a moving statue - and its grandiose emotions, dominated as the play is by Leontes’ obsessively articulated, over-intellectualized jealousy, would invite operatic adaptation.

Wexford Festival Opera announces details of 2017 Festival

Today, Wexford Festival Opera announced the programme and principal casting details for the forthcoming 2017 festival. Now in its 66th year, this internationally renowned festival will run over an extended 18-day period, from Thursday, 19 October to Sunday, 5 November.

Matthias Goerne : Mahler Eisler Wigmore Hall

A song cycle within a song symphony - Matthias Goerne's intriuging approach to Mahler song, with Marcus Hinterhäuser, at the Wigmore Hall, London. Mahler's entire output can be described as one vast symphony, spanning an arc that stretches from his earliest songs to the sketches for what would have been his tenth symphony. Song was integral to Mahler's compositional process, germinating ideas that could be used even in symphonies which don't employ conventional singing.

Oxford Lieder Festival 2017: Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna

Gustav Mahler and fin-de-siècle Vienna will be the focus of the Oxford Lieder Festival (13-28 October 2017), exploring his influences, contemporaries and legacy. Mahler was a dominant musical personality: composer and preeminent conductor, steeped in tradition but a champion of the new. During this Festival, his complete songs with piano will be heard, inviting a fresh look at this ’symphonic’ composer and the enduring place of song in the musical landscape.

A Merry Falstaff in San Diego

On February 21, 2017, San Diego Opera presented Giuseppe Verdi’s last composition, Falstaff, at the Civic Theater. Although this was the second performance in the run and the 21st was a Tuesday, there were no empty seats to be seen. General Director David Bennett assembled a stellar international cast that included baritone Roberto de Candia in the title role and mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti singing her first Mistress Quickly.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Stephen Gould as Paul [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
08 Feb 2009

Die tote Stadt, Royal Opera House

Die tote Stadt is Korngold’s masterpiece in the old sense of the word, when a craftsman would produce a dazzling work to show the world what he could do. This is Korngold’s manifesto, so to speak.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold : Die tote Stadt

Stephen Gould (Paul), Nadja Michael (Marie/Marietta), Gerald Finlay (Frank/Fritz), Kathleen Wilkinson (Brigitta), Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Ingo Metzmacher (conductor), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Willy Decker (director), Wolfgang Gussman (designs).

Above: Stephen Gould as Paul

All photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of The Royal Opera House.

 

It displays his virtues beautifully. But his vices, too, are part of the mix. In Die tote Stadt we hear both the promise of his youth and echoes of what was to come.

The virtues are clear –this is delightful music full of action and romance. Korngold weaves genres together with ease and freedom. The Meyerbeer segment is a joy. He connects a tradition of popular opera while alluding to the most recent incarnation of the Pierrot story – Pierrot Lunaire, Schoenberg’s greatest hit, a sensation before the First World War. He references Wagner, the Strausses (Richard and both Johanns) and plenty of Puccini, particularly Madama Butterfly, another tale of obsessive love and death. Korngold is no ignoramus. He knows his music history and knows his audiences will relish the allusions. The good moments in this opera are superb, torrents of chromatic colour, sonorities so luscious one could almost drown in their gorgeousness.

Tote_Stadt_ROH_03.pngNadja Michael as Marietta

“O Tanz, O Rausch!” sings Marietta, who loses herself in the ecstasy of dance. This mindless, instinctive surrender to sensuality animates the opera. Marietta symbolizes life and vigour. Only she dares confront the overpowering portrait of the dead Marie. Marie may have her moment of vengeance but ultimately, it’s Marietta who lives on. When Frank, Paul’s alter ego suggest they leave Bruges, Paul sings a reprise of “Marietta’s Lied” it becomes a song of triumph, not regret.

The message in Die tote Stadt could not be clearer. Paul must move on if he is to survive. The past can be treasured but cannot take priority over the future. Metzmacher perceptively said that the opera was “like an old photograph. You like to keep it and look at it. But reality is different”. The original novel, Bruges la Morte, by Georges Rodenbach was illustrated with photographs of the city, preserved forever in one moment in the 19th century.

This performance, at the Royal Opera House, under the baton of Ingo Metzmacher, was perhaps as truer to the spirit of the original than many others, for Metzmacher sees it as fresh, daring and modern. This is important because Korngold has, in the last ninety years, acquired a reputation for backward-looking sentimentality. Audiences do like what they assume to be tradition. In 1920, Die tote Stadt was cutting edge. Wozzeck and Jonny Spielt auf were years away. There are shockingly daring harmonies and clashes of key, especially in the Prelude to Act 3. Metzmacher’s clear, incisive style doesn’t cloak the modernity in a slush of sugar, but makes us realize just how aware and innovative Korngold could be.

But Korngold, like Richard Strauss in Elektra, seems to pull back from the edge. However much his admirers may champion his later work, it is Die tote Stadt that is his masterpiece. There isn’t place in this review for an assessment of Korngold’s career as a whole, but the very fact that he chose this ambivalent narrative is revealing. The libretto was written jointly by Korngold and his father, the domineering Julius Korngold, but this was concealed until 1975. How far did Julius’ arch conservative hand hold sway over what he son did, consciously or otherwise ? Since the hero’s dead wife holds vampire-like control of his life, the relevance may not be purely accidental.

The original novel is far more sinister and disturbing. Korngold instead avoids facing the dilemmas by turning murder and madness into a dream, from which his protagonist can walk away without reflection. Yet reflection occurs again and again in the music and textual images. Willy Decker’s staging makes much of mirrors, portraits, of transparent glass surface that throw light back on the action. The “parallel reality” scenes in Act 1 are excellent as theatre, expressing the ambiguous, multi-layered duality that pervades the music and plot. The procession scene is designed to match the Meyerbeer scene – white costumes, masks, stylized ensembles. This is perceptive for it expresses visually the fundamental contrast in the opera between real life and artifice, between actors and characters.

Tote_Stadt_ROH_02.png(From Left To Right) Jurgita Adamonytė as Lucienne, Ji-Min Park as Graf Albert, Gerald Finley as Fritz, Steven Ebel as Victorin, Simona Mihai as Juliette & (Back Row) Adrien Mastrosimone as Gaston

First Night nerves may have accounted for lapses in the singing, though both Paul (Stephen Gould) and Marie/Marietta (Nadja Michael) are demanding roles that keep the singers on stage nearly the whole evening. The range in Marie/Marietta is fearsomely wide, so if Michael was more comfortable in the lower register, it was understandable. Gerald Finlay was luxury casting even though he only appears intermittently. As always, the Royal Opera Chorus was superb.

This Die tote Stadt made a convincing case for Korngold’s reputation. Glorious as it is, though, there are elements in it which make us realize in retrospect why the composer would later excel in music for film. Early movies were a kind of “extreme opera”, where music intensified dramatic action, where emotions were whipped up even if the plots were thin.

Korngold was writing for film long before the Anschluss, which caught him already in Hollywood. The colourful, episodic nature of Die tote Stadt, with its evocation of feeling, despite the weakness in the text, is a foretaste of where Korngold was to find himself. Only a few years previously, all movies were silent. Film music was the cutting edge of modernity, and Korngold was in the vanguard, creating a whole new genre.

Anne Ozorio

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):