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on 24 November 2012
Just to be clear this review is of the Berlin Opera production of Die Tote Stadt starring James King and Karan Armstrong. (The 4 reviews currently attached to this DVD are actually of the Opera du Rhin production starring Torsten Kerl and Angela Denoke. This is a mistake that Amazon have also made elsewhere and I have emailed them to complain).

Of the three versions of this opera available on DVD I would recommend both this version and the Opera du Rhin version. The Opera du Rhin production is very dramatic at times, which I like, and it is very well performed. Unfortunately the production is rather unclear - you are not always sure what an earth is going on. The Berlin Opera production on the other hand is very clear, quite traditional and follows very well the spirit of Georges Rodenbach's original novel 'Bruges-la-morte'. Both prductions change Korngold's improbable and anti-climatic happy ending. To me the changed ending seems preferable ( Korngold had himself changed Georges Rodenbach's end).

The Berlin Opera performance is very well sung and acted. It was filmed at the theatre but without an audience, giving the recording team maximum flexibility, so that the audio and video quality are excellent for time (1983).
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on 25 June 2015
I will not add to the excellent synoptic reviews above, other than to say that this production moved me in all respects. I did appreciate the presence of Marie on stage throughout. Some sopranos could have made a more seductive Marietta, but then she is supposed to be a likeness of the dead Marie, so cannot be too young or supple. All singers sang well. The staging was striking and appropriate. Finally, this is, as described, a DVD, so it is not an HD production.
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on 27 December 2013
Rarely performed Die Tote Stadt deserves to be better known.
Excellent production , convincing actor/singers. Bravo !
Opera-buffs, do not miss this.
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on 31 October 2014
great job!
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on 22 December 2014
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on 11 January 2013
A very good production. In particular the scenes on the street. It really comes alive when Marietta's colleagues dressed as clowns come on the stage, also in the previous scene to this with Paul and Frank. The shimmering water in these scenes looks very authentic.
In comparison with Rene Kollo and Torsten Kerl, James King sounds somewhat flat, giving the impression that he is struggling to reach the high notes. Nevertheless, a good performance and his wooden appearance, real or not, suits the role in this case.
Karen Armstrong's singing and acting is also good, as are the other singers.
Korngold's music, especially in the outer acts, is a cross between Wagner and Hollywood with Hollywood winning. The second act however shows how good a composer he could have been had Hollywood not intervened or maybe if he had lived longer.
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on 1 November 2013
This is a problematic opera to put on stage. Other productions go headlong to achieve the surreal onstage, and end up with clunking, half-baked ideas that detract from the whole. This production is carefully staged, stylish and beautiful. It radiates like the music as we are drawn into the strange sepulchre of Bruges and a lover's grief.

One to own.
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on 4 October 2013
Written when he was just 23 years of age and first performed in 1920, the high Romantic notions conflating love and death are particularly evident in Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die Tote Stadt - The Dead City. The Liebestod-like sentiments are expressed in Wagnerian fashion with an underlying Straussian Salome-like discordance, but what is notable about Die Tote Stadt is how it takes these ideas to even greater levels in its consideration of the underlying psychology or even pathology of his main character through dreams fantasies and impressions. The formal challenges of representing this in a production of the work then are considerable, but so too is the technical virtuosity of the orchestra and the singers to express this often difficult work. Both elements however are handled exceptionally well in this 2010 production from the Finnish National Opera.

Die Tote Stadt is a psychological study that is connected very closely with the nature of a city, in this case Bruges, but this is just one element in a deeper conflict that Paul has to reconcile between the past and the present, between the living and the dead, between an ideal and the reality. Whether it needs additional emphasis or not, Es Devlin's designs for Kasper Holten's production emphatically puts both Paul's room and the city, as a reflection of his inner mindset, right up there on the stage. It looks terrific, the room expressionistically designed with oppressive angles, littered in an obsessively organised fashion with pictures, portraits, mementos and shrine-boxes dedicated to Marie. At the back, tilted, but almost at right-angle to the stage, a vertiginous section of the city is revealed, bearing down on Paul. Using an actor to play the ghost of Marie may not be strictly necessary either, but again having her present on the stage with her lookalike Marietta does make Paul's dilemma all the more real.

If there are any questions about Kasper Holten employing such techniques, they are at least borne out in how they fit with Korngold's musical arrangements for Die Tote Stadt. It's highly demanding of its performers, particularly the role of Marietta, which is pitched at the level of a Straussian soprano. Camilla Nylund has everything that is required here, the range, the stamina, and a necessary beauty in the colour of timbre and expression. She is simply phenomenal. This is a great performance. Klaus Florian Vogt's high sweet tenor might not seem like the ideal voice for the equally challenging role of Paul and he does struggle sometimes at the lower end of the tessitura. He brings a glorious soaring quality however to those ecstatic moments and a sense of vulnerability to his character that is not there, for example, in Torsten Kerl's strident singing of the role on the 2001 Opéra National du Rhin recording.

The Opus Arte release of the Finnish National Opera's 2010 production is released on DVD only, spread across a 2-disc set. The source is certainly not HD, but even in Standard Definition the image quality is somewhat disappointing, lacking real clarity and even appearing to be a little juddery in its NTSC transfer. It does however represent the light, colour and detail of the darkened stage production reasonably well. The LPCM stereo and DTS Surround 5.1 audio tracks don't have the depth of a high resolution recording either, the music not really lifting out or revealing the detail and colour of the orchestration, but that could also be down to the performance which doesn't seem to express the full quality of Korngold's lush score. The only extra feature on the disc is a Cast Gallery. Subtitles are in English, French, German, Japanese and Korean.
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on 7 January 2014
Perhaps this will not be a fair review of this production. It is comparatively simple to review a stand alone performance; but there are now 4 DVD's of Die Tote Stadt available. I have seen them all and it is very difficult not to compare them. In my opinion, the two best are this Finnish production by Holten and the Pizzi production from La Fenice. I much prefer the Pizzi.

The outstanding thing that this production has going for it is the beautiful singing of Klaus Florian Vogt. He can easily handle everything that Korngold has written, and seemingly effortlessly at that. This is a very nuanced interpretation. He comes across as a very sensitive gentle person who has been unable to come to terms with the death of his wife. However, I do not think that this is what the libretto and the music call for. He does not show enough passion. Probably that is the fault of the director, Kaspar Holten (who did such a wonderful interpretation of the Copenhagen Ring). But given the nature of his dream/hallucination/fantasy, there was a lot boiling under the surface of the character Paul; and I did not feel that came across sufficiently.

[I do not know how to describe the singing of Stefan Vinke in the Pizzi production. On the positive side, he is filled with passion and energy. However, his singing is mostly at full throttle (dare I use the term, "bray"?), which I suppose is a blessing because his sotto voce can be uneven. Given the demands of the role, and what he puts into it, it is a wonder that he is still standing at the end. But he is well into the interactions with Solveig Kringelborn and into an interpretation of the role as obsessed, barely suppressed, near psychotic. So, much as I really liked the musicality of Vogt, I am more than prepared to overlook the vocal limitations of Vinke because of his acting which is so important in this opera.]

Another reason for Vogt's apparent lack of passion is the interpretation of Camilla Nylund as Marie/Marietta. She too sings very well, but she has no fire -- and given what she is singing, it is essential. Not only does she not dance, but she is relatively static. She is just not sexy enough, if I can use that term. Her physical groping of Paul near the end of Act III is so mechanical and cold that Paul does not react until the music calls for it. And she is so well groomed the morning after, that one wonders what, if anything, happened during their stated torrid activities of the night. She comes across throughout as almost as cold as Marie -- and Marie is dead (more about that later).

[Kringelborn is a wonder. She gives a beautiful, passionate depiction of what comes out of Paul's mind. She moves, she dances, she taunts and flirts and enrages. She sings almost as well as Nylund, but given all that she brings to the performance that Nylund does not, her performance is a hands-down winner.]

The set was far too busy and cluttered for my taste. All of Act I and the end of Act III had to take place in this room, dominated by a huge bed and with many artifacts placed along the walls and scattered over the floor. But it was marvellously effective when it opened up for the fantasies. The off-kilter depiction of Bruges at the end of what came to seem like a long tunnel -- particularly when darkened was wonderful. [But the simple set of Pizzi, which opened up for the dream/fantasy scenes, was dramatically much more effective.]

My criticisms of Holten's interpretation have to be seen in the light of my admiration for that of Pizzi which seems so right to me. I do not know why Holten has Marie, played by a mute actress, onstage throughout the performance. Sometimes it works, mostly it does not. The Commedia dell'Arte scene is violent and suppressive, rather than liberating through art. The procession does not process and is as static as much else. There are many occasions where the action is at odds with the libretto. And the two principals are emotionally flat.

Orchestrally, I would say that the productions are equal, although the sound reproduction is much better in the Pizzi. I can only wish that my sound system could give a reproduction equal to that experienced in a concert hall. This is a very lush complex score with an augmented orchestra. It is hard to recognise that Korngold was only 23 when the opera was premiered, after having worked on it for some years. Up until the late 1930's it was the most performed opera, appearing on some 70 stages. Unfortunately, his next opera, Das Wunder der Heliane, was severely panned by the critics; partially because it was out of the developing fashion of the time, and partially because panning the opera was a way settling scores with Korngold's father who, as a severe, dogmatic, conservative, influential music critic himself, had antagonised the musical establishment. Also the plot was not realistic, to say the least -- and offended the Roman Catholic establishment. This failure of what he had considered a great work had a strong negative emotional effect upon him.

But Die Tote Stadt is a wonderful opera. It makes one wonder what he might have done in classical music were it not for his rejection of it following the failure of Heliane -- and of course due to the German Anschluss of Austria from which he was lucky to escape to Hollywood. He did go on to be arguably the most influential composer of the Twentieth Century because of his defining the music of the movies.
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on 28 December 2013
This is not a comment on the work or the production. I am rating it one star because of the very poor quality of the DVD encoding and transfer. It looks like a bad VHS tape from twenty years ago. The definition is of a pathetic standard and there are edge artifacts throughout. On a 32 inch TV it is just about watchable but projected on to my screen it is so bad as to make it unwatchable. There is no Bluray version - presumably because the quality of the original recording makes that impossible. I am not an expert on DVD production but I assume this fault has something to do with bitrates. I note that the first Amazon review mentioned the poor quality so I presume the issue is not limited to my disc or just a poor pressing of a batch of discs.
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