DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

KORNGOLD: Die tote Stadt (complete opera) (2012)

An opera so much more deserving that what it has gotten so far.

Published on January 21, 2013

KORNGOLD: Die tote Stadt (complete opera) (2012)

James King (Paul)/ Karan Armstrong (Marietta)/ William Murray (Frank, Fritz)/ Margit Neubauer (Brigitta)/ Sylvia Greenberg (Juliette)/ Ruthild Engbert (Lucienne)/ Donald Grobe (Victorin)/ David Knutson (Graf Albert)/ Chorus and Orch, of the Deutsche Oper Berlin/ Heinrich Hollreiser
Director: Götz Friedrich
Studio: Arthaus Musik 101 656, (10/30/2012) [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 4:3 Color
Audio: PCM stereo
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian
All Regions
Extras: Introduction by Götz Friedrich
Length: 122 minutes
Rating: ***

With Freudian jargon still perfuming European air, the scenes of dreams and passion, obsessiveness and murder, near madness, and an inability to cope with loss, young 23-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s The Dead City took opera houses by storm. Though criticized for following perhaps too heavily in the Straussian mode and neglecting the more radical constructs of the avant-garde, the public felt differently about the work, and it proved on of the most popular new operas of its time. “Marietta’s Lied”, one of the most beautiful arias ever written, helped solidify the work in the popular mind even though only it and one more set piece sung in the second act can really be considered memorable. But the rest of the opera has some superb dramatic moments even though directors who over-stress the more obvious angst of the piece end up distorting it.

There are not any videos currently available that fully do the work justice. The best recording of the complete work, with Erich Leinsdorf, Renee Kollo, and Carol Neblett is currently not available, and it is superb, one of the classics of the modern repertory—wait for it, as it is bound to reappear soon.

One must admire the Deutsche Oper Berlin for deciding in 1983 to add this production to its repertory, and it is one of the few houses at that time to do so. Over the intervening years after Korngold’s work was declared “degenerate” and his migration to Hollywood, The Dead City lost favor for some reason, and became one of those one-hit wonders that had to await another more enlightened time for revival. There are signs it is coming, but still not quite here. Even though Renee Kollo set such a high standard for this piece he still refused to play it on stage. James King had no such qualms and embraced the work whole-heartedly. His performance here does not have the suave lyrical qualities of Kollo, not the subtle shading of character, but otherwise comes across effectively enough to be acceptable. Karan Armstrong is strong and willful as Marietta, and suitably spooky as Marie, yet her voice in this production lacks a steady and consistently solid quality about it, jettisoning a sense of variance in characterization. William Murray’s dual role as Frank and Fritz is one of the highlights here, an important role often overlooked for its musical connecting tissue. But the orchestra is ragged, struggling with intonation and tone quality throughout, something easily forgiven at the time if you were lucky enough to see this in the theater, but not so hot for repeated viewing. The sets are by and large excellent, and the video production well done and well filmed, a standard and fully-focused video of an opera without any tricks. If you have to have one now, this might suffice, but I would wait—someone will give us a real beauty before too long.

—Steven Ritter




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