Although this production is more than ten years old, it has benefit of showing Angela Denoke & Torsten Kerl at start of their rises to international stardom. General musical standards are high, Inga Levant's surreal production imaginative, acting good. Some may find Paul's clutching his wife's skeletal hand sick, but far worse occurred during World War 1, to which "Die Tote Stadt" makes oblique reference. Millions had to come to terms with loss, then, and this creative setting of Korngold's preoccupation effects admirable, serious treatment to an eternal human condition.
... I might have a higher opinion on this Opera du Rhin 2001 production of a work and composer musicologists rather pointlessly still debate whether both are minor or major and which generated hot debate (which as I notice permeated to this website, as can be gathered from browsing through the entries by other fellow reviewers). As the specialised press on both sides of the Rhine did, you'll either hate it or love it. The well known English critic Alan Blyth, writing for Gramophone magazine when the set was issued in Europe, rather dismissed as "bizarre"; I wouldn't go as far as a whole, although the second act actually comes close, its conception being unnecessarily odd, perhaps verging on the grotesque.
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 agree with the other reviewers who would give many more stars to the performers - just excellent. Torsten Kerl is an excellent Paul, and at the very end I have to say the look of desolation on his face sent me into floods of tears. The actual ending itself was a suprise to me, but I thought he made it work well. What an actor! Considering the strange ideas of the producer (the doll, the corpse, the team of actors etc...) he did a compelling performance of making the emotional beauty of the piece stand out. As one reviewer said, the opera outshines the slightly weird stage ideas. Bravo! I would highly recommend this DVD, and am very glad I chose this one - it is highly atmospheric and the cast superb.