Korngold - Die tote Stadt (Blu-ray)
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Label: Bayerische Staatsoper Recordings
Cat No: BSOREC2001
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 16th July 2021
Chorus and Children’s Chorus of Bayerische Staatsoper
Recorded live at the Bayerische Staatsoper, December 2019
- Paul: Jonas Kaufmann*
- Marietta / Die Erscheinung: Mariens Marlis Petersen
- Frank / Fritz: Andrzej Filończyk
- Brigitta: Jennifer Johnston
- Juliette: Mirjam Mesak
- Lucienne: Corinna Scheurle
- Gaston / Victorin: Manuel Günther
- Graf Albert: Dean Power
Stage director: Simon Stone
Assistant director: Maria-Magdalena Kwaschik
Set design: Ralph Myers
Costume design: Mel Page
Light design: Roland Edrich
Dramatic advisor: Lukas Leipfinger
Stage production in cooperation with Theater Basel
Filmed in HD
Audio format: PCM Stereo and DTS-MA 5.1
Region code: A,B,C
Subtitles: German, English, French, Korean, Japanese
Duration: 143 min.
Paul, a widower living in the ‘dead city’ of Bruges, has turned his home into a temple (or, more accurately, a shrine) to his late wife Marie, and has been living a life of intense introspection. As the opera opens, we learn that he has met a young woman (Marietta) who is the spit-and-image of Marie, and she visits him at his invitation, though not before Paul’s close friend Frank has warned him of the possible perils involved. It soon becomes evident that Paul is dangerously (to himself) obsessive. As Marietta leaves, he falls into an intoxicated dream, which takes up most of the action from the end of Act 1 to the most part of Act 3. In this extended ‘dream sequence’, Paul is exposed to his worst fears and anxieties concerning his grief, loss, and new friendship with Marietta. Towards the end of the opera he awakens, at first shocked by his return to reality, and resolves to try to leave this city of death’.
This journey to self-knowledge is set to a gloriously late-Romantic score, orchestrated with prodigious panache by Korngold junior, and includes two numbers that became instant hits: the Act 1 lute song ‘Glück, das mir verblieb’ for Marietta and Paul, and in Act 2 ‘Mein Sehnen, wein Wähnen’ sung by a carnivalesque Pierrot character as Marietta parties with friends. But, as Petrenko and director Simon Stone demonstrate, there is much more to this opera than just these two well-known excerpts. Better known as a theatre director, Stone – in one of his first operatic engagements – places the opera not in the 1890s or 1920s but in a more up-to-date setting. The ‘exteriors’ of his ingeniously modular set evoke the plain white facades of the Bauhaus movement, and while the interiors include a flat-screen television and laptop (alright, it’s actually a MacBook), the décor suggests the 1960s – right down to the framed posters of Godard’s Pierrot le fou and Antonioni’s Blow-Up. The fascinating booklet interview with Stone makes clear that this blurring of periods is quite deliberate – the music itself locates the period of the work itself, while the director’s task is to bring that work into the present. And it is an objective that Stone and his dream cast achieve with great sensitivity and insight, so that even operatic ‘traditionalists’ ought to pause for thought.
Heading the cast is Munich local-lad Jonas Kaufmann, who is absolutely in his element here, in a score that combines Pucciniesque passion with a distinctly Central European, at times even expressionistic, flavour. His dark-timbred, ringingly heroic tenor is deployed with all the intensity and focus for which he is rightly famed: this Paul is both deeply troubled and urgently questing for some kind of resolution to his loss. He keeps not a lock of Marie’s hair but a wig (it is strongly implied that she has died of cancer), and not a picture of her but hundreds of Polaroid-style snaps, many of which line every inch of the wall of the closet that has become her shrine, while hundreds more are kept (rather creepily) in box files with such markings as ‘Kitchen’, ‘Living Room’, ‘Bath’ and ‘Hospital’ – all deliberately unsettling.
Opposite Kaufmann is Marlis Petersen as Marietta/Marie – an outstanding soprano but also a remarkable singing-actor. She fleshes out the character of Marietta (particularly in the long dream sequence) as a very modern woman: playful, fun-loving, independent, flirtatious, angry but also intensely moving. This is a complex portrayal of a woman who yearns to be taken for who she is as an individual, not put on a pedestal. Both she and Kaufmann are kept on their toes (for much of the time literally) by Stone’s more or less constant but far from distracting use of the Nationaltheater’s revolving stage, which enables the action to move at cinematic pace from room to room, from inside to outside, from fractured dreamscape to reality.
They are supported by an excellent cast including baritone Andrzej Filończyk as Frank/Fritz (including a lightning-quick transformation into Pierrot white-face makeup!) and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston as the trusty housekeeper Brigitta. The chorus and children’s chorus of the State Opera are on excellent form, while the orchestra under Petrenko is simply outstanding, and captured to perfection by the recording team. Petrenko has completely mastered this dazzling score, relishing its detail while revelling in its dramatic and sonorous sweep; this must be the best that Die tote Stadt has ever sounded, even when compared with the celebrated Leinsdorf recording of 1975 (also made in Munich). Don’t let any preconceptions about ‘modern’ staging put you off: this is an outstanding release on every possible level, well filmed and with splendid picture and sound quality. The ovations at the end are long, vociferous, and thoroughly deserved.
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