22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Almost ... but not quite,
This review is from: Die Tote Stadt Pal [DVD]  (DVD)
This is a magnificent opera. Let us not forget how successful it once was. According to performance statistics, of all the operas first performed between the 2 World Wars this opera was - during that period - the most performed; its "rivals" included several Strauss operas, the later operas of Janacek, Turandot, Oedipus Rex,Wozzeck, L'Enfant et les Sortileges and others which are now part of the standard repertoire. There are many "ifs": if the Nazis hadn't banned its performences; if the label of "film composer" hadn't been hung around Korngold's neck; if the once fashionable cul-de-sac of serialism had exerted less influence in the 20 years post World War 2 .... would Die tote Stadt have retained its popularity? If you are prepared to travel around Europe, then these days it's once again possible to enjoy different productions of the opera most years. The promised new production at Salzburg may indeed set the seal on the opera's rehabilitation and, with luck, that too might receive a video recording.
Is the Opera de Rhin production one which reveals the full measure of the work? The answer must be "partially, but not completely". For that, you would have to go to, say, the Stockholm production or the Gotz Friedrich production which toured several European cities. Musically, it's excellent. Torsten Kerl (as Paul) and Angela Denoke (as Marie/Marietta) make the most of their very taxing roles and the conducting of Jan Latham-Koenig is first rate. It is the production which is problematic. The end of the opera can be interpreted positively - showing Paul coming out of his obsession with his dead wife; or negatively - showing the obsession overwhelming him. In this production there seems little progression, either upwards or downwards - he is totally obsessed from beginning to end.
As much of the opera is a dream sequence, it is an invitation for producers to go over the top and for me that part of the production does work. The end of the opera, where Paul seems driven to madness and suicide could work even better if the first half hour of the opera gave more of a contrast. It's perhaps an old-fashioned sentiment, but I don't feel that a bombed-out church works as a set for a middle-class home in Bruges. The production's idea that Paul keeps not just mementos of his dead wife but her actual skeleton is interesting and would be even creepier in a more "normal" setting.
Neverthless, despite the faults, it's still fascinating.