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Die langsame Stadt
on 24 November 2011
Over the last decade, Die tote Stadt has popped up all over the world. Having conducted the work in Barcelona, Sebastian Weigle's revived the masterpiece in his new home in Frankfurt (and recorded by Oehms Classics). Weigle clearly loves the opera, but despite casting bounties, his passion has embalmed Korngold rather than setting him free.
Korngold's sound world is ripe before you begin. Every note has an effect, every bar is laden with rubato. He's a tough task master, because he leaves so little to chance. But underneath that honeyed sheen is a more acidic note and all the bitterness of post-War Europe. Any performance needs to balance those complementary poles. Weigle emphasises the luxury at the expense of vigour.
While gloriously played by the Frankfurt Opern- und Museumsorchester, this all-too-caring approach gets in the way. Nothing is thrown away, there's little humour and the opening of the opera slides into turgid remembrance. It should spacious not sluggish. Metallic percussion and celesta are placed thrilling far forward in the mix, but they fail to cut through the treacle.
Despite the slack tempi, there are vocal glories aplenty. Klaus Florian Vogt is a lyrical Paul. You may miss the danger of a nasal Heldentenor, but the romance has never felt so true. Michael Nagy and Hedwig Fassbender are similarly hushed as Frank/Fritz and Brigitta. Tatiana Pavlovskaya gives a citric bite to Marietta, but her flat vowels undermine 'Glück das mir verblieb'. The aria has many richer renditions on disc. And with four other complete recordings and two DVDs of the opera now on the market, this performance is for wallowers only.