De Nederlandse Reisopera brings Korngold's Die Tote Stadt to life
Die Tote Stadt is the third opera by Erich Wolfgang Korngold who had, at the time of composing, with Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta, already two successful operas (as a 23-year-old!) to his name. The success of these operas made Die Tote Stadt, even before the premiere, to a sought-after piece, of which several theatres in Germany competed with each other to be allowed to give the world premiere. This eventually led to the rather unique situation that in 1920 the world premiere took place simultaneously in Köln and Hamburg (Otto Klemperer conducted in Köln, his wife sang the role of Marietta there). Despite the success of his operas and the fact that at the age of 11 the composer had been labeled by Gustav Mahler as a musical genius (he better didn't go to the conservatory, there was nothing he could learn there any more), Korngold's career was ultimately one in which the expectations raised at a young age were not completely fulfilled. This was, in part, due to the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. Because of them the composer fled to America (to find a job in Hollywood). There the film soundtracks earned him two Oscars (for Anthony Adverse and The Adventures of Robin Hood) but the step from a composer of operas to a composer of moviescores would seriously damage Korngold's image as a serious composer.
In 1920 the world premiere of 'Die Tote Stadt' took place simultaneously in Köln and Hamburg. Otto Klemperer conducted in Köln, where his wife sang the role of Marietta.
Music and libretto follow Paul's journey from the dark grey world of the first act to a world full of colour, the world of Marietta, in the following acts. Marietta is mirrored, projected on a large screen, to a few female protagonists from Hitchcock films. Kim Novak, Grace Kelly and Janet Leigh. Portraits of actresses who are like visual leitmotifs. They indicate what Marietta is; the woman as a substitute (Kim Novak in Vertigo), and they predict her fate (Janet Leigh in Psycho). Marietta and Marie's appearance are played by Iordanka Denlova. A Bulgarian soprano who combines the requested zest for life and feeling for the theatrical in a role as powerful as it is sensual. Acting and singing melt together in a woman who, contrary to the libretto, is not to survive the opera. But more about that later.
What refuses to die in the mind ends up in a lifeless life. A life that makes further life on this earth impossible. What can serve as consolation, a memory, becomes a curse when it draws the living into the realm of the dead, holding it in the kingdom of the undead, preventing it to return to the land of the living. That gothic element, following their Fliegende Holländer of last season, The Reisopera once again shows itself very much at home in gothic scenery (the nuns in this production are unintentionally reminiscent of Dracula's brides ), is the graphic icing on the cake. An addition to music and text that creates a world in which we safely embrace what in real life is preferably kept at a great distance.
Paul's friends, Frank and housekeeper Brigitta, see Marietta's corpse lying on the floor and when Frank asks Paul if he might not go to another place now that his memories of Marie apparently no longer hold him to his room in Bruges, we see police and medical staff. That other place, in the libretto another city, can be interpreted here as a cell in the prison or institution. When the curtain falls for the rest of the cast, Paul is the last man standing, singing a reprise of "Glück, das mir verblieb" - the aria he sang in duet with Marietta in the first act. It is a farewell to Bruges and a farewell, in this production, to his freedom. He exchanges the prison in his head for a real one. The dream of reality has put an end to the dream of love.
Thus, De Nederlandse Reisopera brings Die Tote Stadt to life almost one hundred years after its premiere. An opera by a composer who has been somewhat neglected by music history. The thoughts of Korngold and the composers who suffered a similar fate, popular during the interbellum and for a big part forgotten after the Second World War, make this production an extra sympathetic one and a justifiable attempt to evade from obscurity where history so mercilessly has condemned it to. It would therefore be nice, with the success of this production fresh in mind, if someone contemplating possible productions for upcoming seasons thinks of the name of Franz Schreker.
Conductor: Antony Hermus
Noord Nederlands Orkest
Choir conductor: Andrew Wise
Regie: Jakob Peters-Messer
Stage design: Guido Petzold
Costume design: Sven Bindsell
Paul: Daniel Frank
Marietta/Marie: Iordanka Derilova
Frank: Marian Pop
Brigitta: Rita Kapfhammer