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Die Tote Stadt [DVD] [NTSC]
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If Berlins opera devotees were asked to name the most thrilling, most memorable productions in any of the citys three houses during the last twenty-five years, hardly anyone would hesitate to include Götz Friedrichs 1983 Deutsche Oper staging of Erich Wolfgang Korngolds opera Die tote Stadt on the list. That production starring Friedrichs wife, Karan Armstrong, as Marietta and James King as Paul with breathtakingly beautiful sets by Andreas Reinhardt that captured the gloomy, morbid atmosphere of old Brügge perfectly is justly considered a legend. --OPERA NEWS, 2004
[Götz Friedrich's] richly atmospheric production, conducted by Heinrich Hollreiser and filmed by Brian Large, makes a strong case for the piece. James King is a believable Paul, and Friedrich, seated at his office desk gives a lucid spoken introduction to an opera that permanently hovers on the border between dream and reality. --Andrew Clark, Financial Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Any way, this is the product of a wunderkind of 23 to me still in the process of duly assimilating the various musical influences he was exposed to: Richard Strauss is never far behind, as neither are the Puccini of his last works or even the viennese operetta composers of the time. In fact, most of Marietta's vocal part is characterised by a soaring utterance (which Denoke no doubt relishes and for which she seems very apt and abled) typical of the vocal lines of female parts in works like Der Rosenkavalier, Ariadne auf Naxos or Die Frau ohne Schatten. The work is uneven, reaching heights of perplexing beauty besides segments perilously about to cross the boundaires of the sugary or schmalzy sentimental, viennese style (and that is to say something). References to the successes of Jeritza and Tauber in the protagonical roles, and wielding them as criticism arguments against Denoke's and Kerl's accomplishments have lost any significant relevance to me in 2005, as the 1930's are by now too remote from us and I sincerely doubt anyone's memory to be reliable enough after so much time as to make the comparison viable; or, for that case, as may be evidenced from reconstructed 78's.
So, if you're bent on exploring the unfamiliar or willing to expand your repertoire, Die Tote Stadt may be of interest to you. With superior performances from the four principals (Angela Denoke, Trosten Kerl, Yuri Batukov and Birgitta Svenden), luxurious sounds from the Strasbourg Philharmonic and impeccable conducting from Latham-Koenig, and if you put up with some questionable aspects of an irregular staging concept on the part of stage director Inga Levant and Magali Gerberon's costumes (especially in the second act), you'll enjoy this Arthaus Musik release, which by the way features an informative and helpful booklet that puts composer and work into due perspective and context. The programme includes no additional material, regretfully, but carries menus in 4 languages and subtitles in 5.
I would highly recommend this DVD, and am very glad I chose this one - it is highly atmospheric and the cast superb.
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