on 30 November 2010
Korngold's expressionist masterpiece is given the full works in this reissue of what is still its finest recording. The recording was made in 1975 and the quality of the production (by Charles Gerhardt) is outstanding. You are certainly unlikely to be conscious of it's age. The casting is pretty much ideal. Carol Neblett might be considered a little too "efficient" in the role of Marietta but this suits the character's emotional brutality well and the comparative directness is what is needed dramatically. Kollo (about whom I sometimes have reservations) seems very fine in the lead role and the famous; "Gluck, das mir verblieb", is wonderful in the context of the drama. This piece is sometimes described as "Marietta's Lied" and is more often heard as a soprano party piece but it is much more satisfying in its original form as an almost-duet with the tenor. The supporting cast is marvellous too, especially Benjamin Luxon in the crucial role of Frank.
The other famously excerpted aria - Fritz's "Mein Sehnen, mein wahnen" - is given an unnecessarily glutinous performance by Hermann Prey. It's such a ravishing piece that it works best if sung straight, in my opinion. However, if you have a sweet tooth, you might like it like this.
Korngold was at the height of his fame when this opera was given simultaneous opening nights in Hamburg and Cologne on December 4th 1920. The plot is a post-Freudian expressionist nightmare but, in as fine a performance as this one, it's hard to understand why it has taken so long to re-enter the repertoire. This is the ultimate neo-romantic wallow and, as well as the sheer tunefulness, there is enough drama to make this a deeply satisfying experience. The cost of the current reissue means that you really ought to own it.
on 9 October 2011
With the possible exception of the tenor role, this is a most appealing recording - hauntingly so in places. The analogue sound is very acceptable and the combination of soloists is enduring and difficult to displace. The tenor role tends to be a little coarse and stocatto , but Rene Kollo otherwise handles the part as well as any (as he does in Solti's recording of "Tannhauser" for Decca). Carol Neblett is a soprano who captures the imagination as well as the ear. The acoustic bonus of this recording is the supporting singers, Luxon and Prey, and that of the choirs - very effective in beautifully and hauntingly conveying the 'other-worldliness' of the respective sections of this opera's narrative. A welcome return to the catalogue.
on 2 February 2011
Probably the best recording of 'Die tote Stadt' and wears amazingly well for being 35 years old. Especially welcome at mid/low price.
HOWEVER: try and find a copy of the original issue on RCA instead of this re-issue on Sony. Why? the original has a good booklet and the libretto in English and German. This re-issue has cheapskated on that which is pathetic. But, if you know the opera, or if you don't care that there's no libretto, go ahead. Note that all the rival versions have no libretto either. And this version is better.
on 27 April 2015
The benchmark recording of this forgotten masterpiece. whilst there are reservations about Rene Kollo, it might be useful to now that a fair portion of his role was recorded later, dubbed over the completed orchestral score later in a London studio as he was not in the best vocal health at the time, very tired from a stage performance (Leinsdorf refers to this in his book 'Erich Leinsdorf On Music'). For those who maintain that Leinsdorf was something of an intransigent martinet there's some information in that book which helps to redress the balance, he had a lot of concern over straining his soloists in this very taxing part. Nevertheless, Kollo is a bit of a shouter at times, but you should not take any issues with it as the sum of the parts is quite something. Sumptuous orchestral playing and a marvellous recording as well. You really wouldn't know which bits were dubbed on afterwards, it's that good.
An interesting and coherent plot and the later Hollywood style is to be found within some passages. a mere 23 years old when he composed this opera (with two other productions already under his belt), it's an astonishing achievement that surpasses all other wunderkinds, Mozart included.
This is one of the works whose place in my affections is way above its intrinsic merits, and it is a guilty pleasure in the same way as a slice of Sacher Torte and whipped cream-over rich, over indulgent but so enjoyable! We all know the jibes about " More Korn than Gold" but this work contains a great weight of high carat gold, as does the performance and recording. The plot , such as it is, is steeped in Freudian psychobabble and portrays Bruges as a city obsessed with and permeated by thoughts of death. When I've been there I've found it obsessed more with chocolate and strong beer, but perhaps those don't make strong enough dramatic elements. The reviewer who styles himself "Entartete Musik" is in my view grossly unfair in his review, and ungenerous with his rating. There is an issue that may deter some potential buyers, but overall this is a very accomplished and beautifully presented set, the 4th of the stereo era on CD. The default recording is the 1975 Leinsdorf, now at bargain price and sounding splendid still. It is the only recording that does not apply cuts to the score, and is undoubtedly a firm recommendation, but Kollo is an uningratiating Paul, often resorting to near shouting and reaches his rather harsh top notes in a clumsy manner. The Segerstam is a bargain also, and Katarina Dalayman dazzles as the finest Marie/Marietta yet-however Sunnegardh struggles with Paul and the best that can be said is that he gets through the role. 2003-4 was the year of the Korngold revival, with Vienna staging this work in a new production which I saw at that time. In Vienna the cast was Simon Gould and Angela Denoke-she was superb, he was stentorian.
When Orfeo came to record the performances from its transfer to the Salzburg Festival, the situation was reversed-Denoke was in tired, somewhat ragged voice but her new Paul , Torsten Kerl was magnificent and with the Frank of Bo Skovhus, this set under Runnicles has the best male casting at least, plus the glory of the Vienna Philharmonic. Of the above sets, only the Segerstam on Naxos provides a libretto.
The new set is sumptuously recorded, and has less cuts that the Segerstam or Runnicles sets, which last cruelly excises all the tolling bells, such a crucial motiv, from the scene 2 prelude. The exotic percussion effects really do come to the fore, and complement the rich strings and gloriously burnished brass of the cumbersomely titled Frankfurt Opern-und Museumsorchester (this is one orchestra which has 2 guises-the "Museum" is not a building full of relics, but the title of an Arts Society which promotes performances inspired by the "Muses"-hence Museum-much in the way of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. It would be like saying the "Vienna State Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra"-but I digress!).
Sebastien Weigle conducts a leisurely, lilting but beautifully shaped performance which does NOT drag and which is in fact not slow at all after the first tableau, making me wonder if "Herr Entartete" listened all the way through. Certainly, the work's big number "Glück das mir verblieb..." is taken at a very drawn out pace, but this gives the number a Wagnerian intensity and I find it totally gripping.
I have nothing but praise for Tatiana Pavlovskaya's rich, impassioned and utterly secure Marie/Marietta which runs close to Dalayman in excellence and for me surpasses Neblett. I'm not in the least bothered by some occasional unidiomatic pronunciation-if I were, I'd never listen to Nilsson in Wagner!
She excels in both roles, and is a real find. Similarly Michael Nagy is a fine Frank and the remaining roles are all well taken, and the eerie chorus is superb.
The contentious casting is yet again Klaus Florian Vogt who is NO Heldentenor, but does posses a beautiful light and lyrical tenor voice especially when not cast in roles to which he is totally unsuited such as Siegmund, Lohengrin and Parsifal. There is no baritone quality to Vogt's voice whatsoever, and he invariably sounds either too young or too weedy in the aforementioned roles. I'm less concerned with this in this work, as he does sing well and there is nothing to say that this Romantic lyrical approach should not be tried-the part was written for Tauber, so Korngold undoubtedly intended it for a darker voice, but if you don't find Vogt's voice too light, he both sings and acts well. If only it had been Kaufmann.....!
The booklet has a full libretto, beautiful colour photographs and interesting notes, and is in every way exemplary. I like this set, and I think many others will too. It is different, but by and large in a good way!
The ideal would be a confection of all of the above-Leinsdorf conducting, the Vienna Phil, Kerl as Paul-but Pavlovskaya vies for first choice as Marie and Nagy is not inferior to his rivals. Sonically, this is the best recorded yet and if you are looking for a recording, don't dismiss this one-it's really very good indeed.
Stage and audience noise is minimal. Four and a half stars, five if you like Vogt in the role more than I do. Recommended. Stewart Crowe