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Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pizzi Is Better, 7 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Die Tote Stadt [Klaus Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund, Markus Eiche ] [Opus Arte: OA1121D] [DVD] [2013] [NTSC] (DVD)
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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