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Korngold: Die Tote Stadt

Erich Leinsdorf Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product details

  • Performer: René Kollo, Carol Neblett, Benjamin Luxon, Rose Wagemann
  • Orchestra: Tölz Boys' Choir, Bavarian Radio Chorus
  • Conductor: Erich Leinsdorf
  • Composer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold
  • Audio CD (1 July 1989)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Opera Series
  • ASIN: B000025T5M
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 164,171 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Product Description

Die tote Stadt (German for The Dead City) is an opera in three acts by Erich Wolfgang Korngold to a libretto by Paul Schott, a collective pseudonym for the composer and his father, Julius Korngold; it is based on the 1903 translation by Friedrich von Oppeln-Bronikowski of the 1892 novel Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Die Tote Stadt is anything but dead! 19 July 2011
Format:Audio CD
Like most people, I only used to know Korngold's musics through his film scores and, later, the violin concerto. I was also aware of the US critic's comment about his music being "more corn than gold". Korngold's opera "Die tote Stadt" (the dead town) puts that critics view in the shade and reveals the loss to music that Korngold's exile to Hollywood represented.

The plot of the opera is taut and, despite its reliance on illusion and fantasy, wholly believable. This is because the characters are so obviously drawn from real life and because the quality of the music is so high. However, like most operas, you cannot get much out of it unless you have the plot to hand, in the form of a book with the libretto and a translation. That is why I recommend you purchase this earlier release of Leinsdorf's performance on RCA with Munich Opera. You do get the booklet as well as the excellent performances by all the singers and orchestra and the high quality recording from the 70s. The Australian suppliers were quite excellent in their packaging and rapid response to my order - I thoroughly recommend them.

However it's the music that's the thing and I cannot praise Korngold's score too highly. Its combination of late romantic lushness, especially in the strings, with spikey early 20s' interjections of percussion and brass make it a work which should appeal to a very wide range of listeners. I was put onto this work by the performance of two arias of it by competitors in the recent 2011 Cardiff Singer of the World competition. The melodies were sublime!
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars splendid opera and recording - warts and all! 29 April 2013
By Jurgen Lawrenz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Potential buyers should at least be alerted to two features of the opera, which is not really like what you would expect from the usual comments about cross between Strauss and Puccini. It would be more appropriate to say: a cross between Lehar and Puccini, with a bit of Alban Berg thrown in. The story line is woefully idiotic, but most of the music is rich and colourful, not to say overripe and opulent. Frankly the "Lehar" episodes drive me mad, they stick out like a sore thumb, whereas "Berg" fits in perfectly.
Leinsdorf, who normally tends to be somewhat cut and dried, here adopts an almost opposite stance. The result is an extraordinarily lavish orchestral canvas. One could easily come to the belief that he loves Korngold's score more than any other. The sound, despite its age, is translucent, all the details of this rich score comes through. So no complaints in this department. Listeners accustomed to digital might find a little constricted, but one gets used to it quickly.
The cast is variable. René Kollo gives a good protrayal, as he should, having been a pop singer before he turned to opera. His voice is not especially agile, and he has no genuine top. It is not a performance that would thrill you, and he has a habit (also discernible in his Wagner roles, where they sound utterly inappropriate) of degenerating into vaudeville. Mind you, the plot invites this kind of thing. In contrast, the mellow baritone of Hermann Prey caresses the ear with its mellifluous tones. Unfortunately he only has one 'song', a kind of circus ballade, and Frank Sinatra would have done it just as well. Benjamin Luxon's role is mostly sing-song speaking, so there isn't much to say; whjereas Rose wagemann has a deep alto voice that seems ideal for the lines she has to sing. Her's is in fact the first really singing voice we hear, and she makes a good start to proceedings.
This leaves us with the heroine. Well, she ain't no Maritza! Still, as long as she sings in her natural register, she produces some lovely tones. Rising up into higher regions, her voice gets pinched. Not ideal.
As far as I know, this is the only recording of the work in modern stereo. It is, from a singing point of view, less than perfect. I could imagine Jessye Norman thrilling me where Nesbitt has me worried if she's going to make it. I think Nicolai Gedda would have thrilled me as the hero, while Kollo leaves me cold. So the real hero of this recording is Leinsdorf. I can't imagine another conductor with so much flair of the Viennese kind - committed, but not overly serious, and revelling in the glories of the orchestral writing.
Finally, a word of praise for Charles Gerhardt, whose production is stylish, but discreet. How easy it would been to exaggerate the effects.
So in all, if you can cope with a story that's sillier than even the proverbial silly opera plot, there is plenty of well-performed, beautiful music to enjoy.
5.0 out of 5 stars The best available performance, probably the best that will ever be done. 21 Jan 2014
By J. Parfrey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Just a couple thoughts to add to Mr Lawrenz's comments elsewhere in the reviews for this particular recording.

Korngold was a child prodigy, and when Die Tote Stadt premiered, the composer was all of twenty-three years of age. The orchestration is lavish and brilliant in many places (I have a score), and of course the whole thing is over the top, as one might suspect with this story line and a young prodigy teeming with talent and the means to bring his music to life.

Leinsdorf, in his posthumously published book "Erich Leinsdorf on Music" writes about the difficulty Rene Kollo had with the music (both leads have many extended passages written in a very high tessitura). When the recording was being made, Kollo was performing Parsifal (in Bayreuth) and alternating between those performances and recording sessions in Munich. Parsifal is written in a lower tessitura, which -- in contrast to the very high-range role of Paul in this opera -- created this problem. RCA agreed to have Leinsdorf and the orchestra record the problematic passages without Kollo so that Kollo could come to the RCA studio in London months later when his voice was more primed for the high passages in "Die Tote Stadt" and record them over the orchestra track. According to Leinsdorf: "... when I later heard the finished product I marveled at everybody's skill".

Mr Lawrenz' estimation of Kollo's talent as a pop artist (a career he left behind in the mid-1960s) belies the fact that from the mid-1960s to the end of his career, Kollo performed the major Wagner roles (Erik, Lohengrin, Tannhauser, Tristan, Walther, Siegfried, & Parsifal) in major houses that included Bayreuth and the New York Metropolitan. Along with Jon Vickers (who had a narrower Wagner repertoire), he was one of the major heldentenors of the 1970s.

I'm glad that Mr Lawrenz, in spite of his reservations gives this recording an overall positive review, for this is without a doubt the best available performance of this sumptuous late romantic score. The sonic impact must be heard to be appreciated!
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