Opera Gazet, 28 November 2019
|by FLAMAND OLIVIER
Korngold: Die tote Stadt, Bayerische Staatsoper, ab 18. November 2019
Die tote Stadt: a great psychothriller – but no city
On Tuesday, November 26 I attended the third performance of Die tote Stadt
at the Bayerische Staatsoper Munich. This run had its premiere on November
18. There was considerable hype and buzz about it because of the role debut
of Jonas Kaufmann as Paul. Never ever have I seen so many people outside the
National Theater asking for a ticket. And inside it was different too. You
could hear many foreign languages and it seemed that people from all over
the world had come to see this.
The Dead City (or perhaps more
appropriately City of Death) in the title of the opera is of course Bruges
in Belgium. This drab city with grey buildings, black canals, beguines
(mysterious nuns) and a lot of fog is supposed to be the backdrop and symbol
for the psychological drama of death, loss and hope. The opera is loosely
based on the novel Bruges-la-Morte by Rodenbach and was written by the child
prodigy composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold in 1920 then 22 years old.
According to Korngold the dead city of Bruges is one of the protagonists of
his opera, therefore the title.
For the Kaufmann debut, the Munich
Opera originally planned a new staging but due to problems they had to
import Simon Stone’s 2016 staging from Basel which he recreated and
rehearsed himself in Munich.
Die Tote Stadt staged without the city
There is no sign of Bruges in this staging at all. It plays entirely in a
house and rooms from the 1950s – dull furniture and walls in very light
pastel colors. Only the poster of Antonioni’s movie Blow-up on the wall
tells us that we could expect some psychological drama. The set designed by
Ralph Myers cleverly breaks up into individual pieces when Paul leaves
reality and has his dreamlike visions. The costumes by Mel Page are all
1950s style. I would have liked an even more colorful dress for Marietta.
Paul’s coat and hat are appropriately dull. The lighting designed by Roland
Edrich is always full light and never mysterious. The lights flash violently
when shifting from reality to imagined vision. This is quite unnecessary. It
reminds of a cheap horror movie when the ghosts appear.
directing is detailed and faithful to the story. The psychodrama is
developed by him in detail and played very emotionally. During Paul’s
visions zombie-like doubles of Marie appear everywhere. There is no lute
which plays an important part in the text. The painting of Maria is replaced
by thousands of small photos. I rather liked the blond wig which substituted
the original lock of hair. The religious procession is replaced by children
and doubles of Marietta and Paul. This does not fit at all with the text
Paul is singing about it.
The director keeps the action flowing and makes
it thrilling to the very end. But I very much missed Bruges.
Korngold wrote a very demanding tenor part for Paul. And Jonas
Kaufmann copes with it splendidly, considering he has to sing virtually all
the time in the three acts. His singing of “Glück, das mir verblieb” in the
duet and in the repeat at the end is beautiful and very touching. In some of
the dramatic passages I wished he would vary his volume a bit more to make
it sound more interesting. His acting was very good too. But he appears to
be much too healthy for the role of the traumatized Paul.
again proves what great actress-singer she is. Her Marietta is perfect and
totally believable. She jumps and leaps and sings at the same time. She
makes this difficult part sound very easy. Her singing of “Glück, das mir
verblieb” is extremely beautiful and very touching. What an exceptional
Andrzej Filonczyk as Frank/Fritz does everything right.
He sings his showpiece Pierrot’s song “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen” with great
feeling and beauty. But I have to admit that each time I hear this song I am
reminded of Hermann Prey.
Jennifer Johnston has the warm voice needed
for Brigitta. She also has a few opportunities to show that she has a big
The members of Marietta’s troupe and the count are sung and
acted enthusiastically by Mirjam Mesak, Corinna Scheurle, Manuel Günther and
Petrenko – the real star of the evening
Bayerisches Staatsorchester under the baton of Kirill Petrenko plays
gorgeously. The huge orchestral outbursts are extraordinary: for example the
introduction to act two. Petrenko also achieves a very romantic sound for
the quieter, lyric passages. Rightly Petrenko received the biggest ovations
by the audience at the end. And now I understand fully why the Berlin
Philharmonic chose him as their chief conductor.
I very much missed
Bruges, the City of Death in this staging. But it was very well directed and
extremely well sung and acted. This was a very memorable performance.