on 19 July 2011
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! When I purchased the complete opera I was delighted to find that, unlike with some operas, these arias were not just isolated lollipops, putting the rest of the work to shame, but rather they were typical of the standard of the opera as a whole. Incidentally, the identity of the dead town is Bruges (Brugge) in Belgium. I hope the inhabitants of that city won't be put off purchasing this set by that revelation. It's a piece that transcends all national boundaries and appeals to anyone who has ever had to cope with the death of a loved one or who asks themselves how they might cope with such an event in the future. In other words it will appeal to everyone. So go ahead and buy it!