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Gorgeous production and a stunning performance from Camilla Nylund
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.