Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt

In 1934 Erich Korngold moved to the U.S. to write music scores for films. He was lucky to get out of Germany when he did at the insistence of his friend, the stage director Max Reinhardt, for the Nazis immediately banned his music from all German stages. By age 37 Korngold had written two one-act operas and one full length one: Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City), which he composed to a libretto written by him and his father. After that point in his career he only occasionally turned to concert music, busy as he was contributing 16 film scores to Hollywood films.

Bayerische Staatsoper Recordings has released a DVD recording of a 2019 production directed by Simon Stone, conducted by Kiril Petrenko, and respectively starring German soprano Marlis Petersen and tenor Jonas Kaufmann as Marie/Marietta and Paul. The supporting cast features baritone Andrzej Filonczyk as Frank/Fritz, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston as Brigitta, and Mirjam Mezak. Corinna Scheurler, Manuel Guenther, and Dean Power as the theatre friends of Marietta.

It was interesting to read that the great Austrian lyric tenor Richard Tauber was one of the singers who took on the role of Paul. Jonas Kaufman, after a steady diet of Wagnerian heavies takes an unrelentingly stentorian approach to the part, which soon starts to overstay its welcome in music that is admittedly high lying but does not call for an excess of lung power at a high decibel level. Marlis Petersen, on the other hand, is sympathetic, pretty as a picture, and blessed with a top register that does not for a minute get challenged by Korngold’s writing.

Of the well-known moments, Marietta’s song remains a favorite with opera fans. Pierrot’s song is a go-to number for lyric baritones. For the rest of the two hour-forty minute score much of it sounds like Richard Strauss minus the truly memorable moments. For top-drawer, truly-inspired Korngold, it is strongly suggested the listener check out the great violin concerto and any one of the many film scores.

Rafael de Acha       ALL ABOUT THE ARTS