19 Apr 2009
Die tote Stadt: The Dead City Livens Up Palermo
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s music drama Die tote Stadt has had a rather erratic life in major opera houses.
Calliope Tsoupaki’s latest opera, Fortress Europe, premiered as spring began taming the winter storms in the Mediterranean.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary New Sussex Opera has set itself the challenge of bringing together the six scenes - sometimes described as six discrete ‘tone poems’ - which form Delius’s A Village Romeo and Juliet into a coherent musico-dramatic narrative.
Following highly successful UK premières of Salieri’s Falstaff (in 2003) and Trofonio’s Cave (2015), this summer Bampton Classical Opera will present the first UK performances since the late 18th century of arguably his most popular success: the bitter comedy of marital feuding, The School of Jealousy (La scuola de’ gelosi). The production will be designed and directed by Jeremy Gray and conducted by Anthony Kraus from Opera North. The English translation will be by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray. The cast includes Nathalie Chalkley (soprano), Thomas Herford (tenor) and five singers making their Bampton débuts:, Rhiannon Llewellyn (soprano), Kate Howden (mezzo-soprano), Alessandro Fisher (tenor), Matthew Sprange (baritone) and Samuel Pantcheff (baritone). Alessandro was the joint winner of the Kathleen Ferrier Competition 2016.
Reflections on former visits to Opera Holland Park usually bring to mind late evening sunshine, peacocks, Japanese gardens, the occasional chilly gust in the pavilion and an overriding summer optimism, not to mention committed performances and strong musical and dramatic values.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s music drama Die tote Stadt has had a rather erratic life in major opera houses.
The author was an “enfant prodige” when at the age of 23 , and with already two successful operas on his back, Die tote Stadt ( “The Dead City”) had the privilege of simultaneous premières in Hamburg and Cologne. It had been turned down by Vienna mainly because of a rift between Gustav Mahler (then, at the helm of the Staatsoper) and Korngold’s father, Julius, a well known (and very strong minded) music reviewer as well as co-author (with his son) of the terse libretto. The success was enormous. Also in Vienna, where it was staged a few months later.
Even before the first staging, Giacomo Puccini was so shocked by a piano performance by “young Erich Wolfgang” that, according to hearsay in many of his biographies, stopped composing the final part of Turandot. In the 1920s, Die tote Stadt was applauded in all main European opera houses. At the advent of Nazism, Korngold emigrated to the U.S. where he spent most of his life between New York and Los Angeles. He became a well known author of film music, winning no less than two Oscar Prizes.
After a long period of silence, Die tote Stadt found a new lease on life in the mid-1970s, with successful and almost parallel, albeit very different productions, in New York (at the City Opera) and in Munich. I loved the City Opera production when I was living in Washington; the music drama was being toured in the USA. It appeared quite frequently until the mid-1980s. Then a new phase of relative oblivion; it re-emerged in the late 1990 at the Spoleto Festival and in 2004 at the Salzburg Festival. The Salzburg production, staged by Willy Decker, had standing ovation; since then, it is in the repertory of the Vienna Staatsoper and has been seen in Barcelona, Madrid and several other major theaters; last February was in London at the RHO. In Italy, Die tote Stadt had his premère in Catania in 1996, was in Spoleto in 1998 and is now in Venice and Palermo in a new sparkling production — quite different from Decker’s.
The plot is base on a decadent late 19th century novel by the symbolistic writer and poet Georges Rodendach — also the basis, as a play, for a major box-office hit It revolves around the obsessions of young widower, Paul; madly in love for his past wife Marie. He thinks that she revives in a sexy dancer, Mariette, visiting Bruges (“the dead city”) to perform in the local opera house. To come to grip with his obsessive day-dreams, Paul has to kill Mariette and leave Bruges forever. The score includes a broad cross-section of all what was in vogue in Central Europe in the years around the First World War. It has reminisces from Wagner and Strauss but especially the opulence of Schreker. The listener can feel that Zemlisky was Korngold’s teacher, not only Schönberg. The complex vocal and orchestral score leaves also room to two set pieces — Mariette’s Lute Song and Pierrot’s Dance Song — easy to listen and frequently requested in German radio programs.A scene from Die tote Stadt [Photo by Michele Crosera]
The Palermo and Venice joint productions — two of the rare financially sound Italian opera houses — features a fascinating staging by Pier Luigi Pizzi. With a skillful use of mirrors and lighting, we are enthralled in a deadly atmosphere: Paul’s house opens on a decaying city in a dark swamp of stagnant water. The details are carefully described in James Sohre’s review of the Venice production published in Opera Today on 8 March. In Palermo, though, there is a different cast. The conductor Will Humburg digs into the score to show its modern approach as well the “virtuoso” efforts requested to some orchestra soloist. Very taxing the role of the protagonist, Paul, always on stage with a heldentenor pitch; John Trelaven is up to the required standard; in my opinion, a better fit than Stefan Vinke in Venice . Nicole Beller Carbone is an erotic Mariette, both vocally and dramatically. Good all the others.
The Palermo audience is gradually getting adjusted to more innovative opera seasons than those of the past and applauded warmly the April 16th opening night of Die tote Stadt in their beloved Teatro Massimo.