Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897-1957)
Die Tote Stadt - Opera in Three Acts (1916-20)
Paul - Stefan Vinke
Marietta/Marie - Solveig Kringelborn
Frank/Fritz - Stephan Genz
Brigitta - Christa Mayer
Juliette - Eleonore Marguerre
Lucienne - Julia Oesch
Gaston - Gino Potente
Victorin - Shi Yijie
Count Albert - Mathias Schulz
Orchestra and Chorus of La Fenice, Venice/Eliahu Inbal
rec. live, Teatro La Fenice, Venice, 29-31 January 2009
Picture Format: NTSC 16:9
Sound Format: LPCM 2.0
Region Code: 0
Subtitles: French English German Spanish Italian - sung in German
Booklet notes: Italian English French German
DYNAMIC DVD 33625 [148:00]
Korngold’s most celebrated opera has not fared well on DVD to date. The Opera National du Rhin’s 2001 production was dreadful and if you follow this link you will discover an in-depth appraisal of it with a review of an outstanding audio recording. The same location also offers background notes about the opera’s development and plot as well as pictures from the original staging giving a clue as to how Korngold envisioned how it should look. Inbal’s new production does not sink as low as the Opera National du Rhin’s effort but it disappoints nonetheless.
Briefly, the plot of Die Tote Stadt revolves around Paul a man who has lost his cherished, saintly wife Marie. He is inconsolable and has built a shrine to her memory within his house. Along comes Marietta whose appearance seems identical to his deceased wife. Paul is excited thinking that his wife has come back to him. But Marietta is a worldly woman who enjoys many admirers. She is bemused by his obsession with the dead and then taunts him more and more as the opera progresses. Ultimately she mocks him with a plait of Marie’s hair. Paul in a towering rage strangles Marietta with it. Paul awakens and realises he has been dreaming; but he has learnt his lesson and chooses to abandon the past and return to life.
The difficulty this time is with the singers. Readers will have noted on previous occasions that operas are often filmed over one or two or three performances so that the DVD production team can select the best takes. I was reminded of this at the end of the ‘Pierrot’s Lied’ when an editing cut is quite plain and the suspicion grows when it is noticeable that the quality of the singing varies through this put-together DVD production. Vinke’s delivery is particularly noticeable. His early arias and crucial duet with Marietta in the first Act ‘Marietta’s Lied’ is spoilt by suspect intonation. Later he impresses more strongly in his rages at her taunting and infidelities. Vinke looks too much like a macho man, his dress and bearing hardly suggesting the weak and over-sensitive Paul. Kringelborn is an ageing, junoesque Marietta whose allure, must have long since departed. She wears an extraordinary blonde wig that could have escaped from some downmarket charity shop. Her seductive contortions are often risible; she is at her best when her patience snaps and her contempt for Paul boils over. Her timbre is harsh, and her voice not entirely steady; amazingly her top register impresses. Genz is cast in the dual role of Paul’s friend Frank, and as Fritz, in Pierrot costume, one of Marietta’s fellow theatrical players. He impresses as the former and disappoints as Fritz in that other highlight of Die Tote Stadt, ‘Pierrot’s Lied - "Mein Sehen, mein Wähnen …" (My dreaming, my yearning). This lovely melancholic romantic aria is delivered almost deadpan; expressionless.
The staging is minimal and consists of one set with a screen at the rear which shows figures and boats moving against the Bruges canal waters. In the foreground are the objects of Paul’s shrine to Marie dominated by a large portrait of his wife strumming a lute. Behind is a series of angled platforms to provide varying heights for the characters - I seem to recall that La Fenice’s stage is relatively small. The production has moments of imagination. Act III’s religious procession is quite grotesque. It consists of ecclesiastical figures, lit red, passing to and fro at the back of the stage their faces shrouded. At one point their costumes loosen and there is an impression that here is a conflict between paganism and Christianity; it is all part of Paul’s nightmare.
Until a first class video recording comes along with leading singers and sympathetic costumes and sets, I recommend that readers concentrate on the RCA’s 1975 recording (RCA Victor GD87767(2)). The lead roles (René Kollo and Carol Neblett) are sung with passion and conviction and the expanded Munich Radio Orchestra are magnificently recorded in spectacular sound.  
Ian Lace