Die tote stadt. Opera de Rhin, Strasbourg 1999. Director: Inga Levant. Cast: Angela Denoke (Marie/Marietta), Torsten Kerl (Paul), Birgitta Svendén. Conductor: Jan Latham-König. Further information here.
Composed when he was 23, Erich Wolfgang Korngold´s opera Die Tote Stadt from 1920 quickly went on to become one of the most popular operas of the 1920´s, the atmosphere of new beginnings probably resonating well with post-world war one audiences. Since then, performances have been rather infrequent and the opera never really seems to have made it into the main circuit. However, recently a minor Die Tote Stadt revival seems to be ongoing, with performances in both San Francisco, London, Vienna, Salzburg and Barcelona.
Any discussion on Die Tote Stadt seems to end up in a pro vs. con discussion of Korngold´s abilities as a composer. As I don´t have any particular new insights compared to the vast insights (most of which are not particularly original either) already available on the internet, I will refrain from discussing this subject. The work is what it is - a densely textured late-romantic composition with multiple influences from Korngold´s contemporaries, Richard Strauss in particular.
Basically, Die Tote Stadt is an innner psychological drama about one man´s overwhelming obsession with his dead wife: The man, Paul, meets a young woman, the dancer Marietta, with an uncanny resemblance to his dead wife, Marie. A hallucinatory relationship with a disastrous outcome when Paul appears to kill Marietta. Paul, however, comes to realize that he has been living in the illusory past and resolves to leave Bruges, Die Tote Stadt (the dead city), to start a new life.
As of yet, this is the only DVD version available, but one hopes for the release of the Willy Decker production, which is on the repertoire in both Vienna, San Francisco, Barcelona and London these seasons.
The production is modern, Inga Levant apparently being one of those stage directors who prefer stuffing the stage with all kinds of symbols, dolls, skeletons as well as common rubbish as opposed to the stylish minimalism of a Willy Decker. Marietta appears to become pregnant and in the end, Paul slits his wrists and collapses, apparently unable to put the past behind him after all.
The leads are two singers, closely associated with their parts - Angela Denoke and Torsten Kerl. Angela Denoke´s lyrical soprano and comitted acting makes her entirely believable as the dancer Marietta while Torsten Kerl is a good fit for the rather strange and obsessive Paul, a part requiring the stamina of a Wagner helden-tenor. Beautifully conducted by Latham-König.
Personally I would still wait to see if one of the Willy Decker performances are to be released. If not, this is a fully acceptable choice.
Angela Denoke with Marietta´s lied:
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
Torsten Kerl: 4
Angela Denoke: 4
Levant´s production: 3
Jan Latham-König: 4
Overall impression: 4