KORNGOLD: Die tote Stadt
Korngold was only 23 when he amazed Vienna with his first major opera, Die tote Stadt("The Dead City"). Leading singers of the time including Lotte Lehmann, Richard Tauber and Maria Jeritza sang leading roles and conductors Otto Klemperer and George Szell led early performances. Although not standard repertory, this opera has had some memorable revivals and in 1975 RA made a remarkable recording conducted by Erich Leinsdorf with Carol Neblett and René Kollo in the leading roles.This magnificent performance was recorded in quadraphonic audio and recently issued on SACD, highly praised on this site (REVIEW). For more information about the opera check that site. In 2012 this site praised a Berlin DVD recording with Karen Armstrong and James King (REVIEW).
Now we have this new Bavarian Opera performances in December 2019. It was directed by Simon Stone with sets designed by Ralph Myers, costumes by Mel Page. It is a surrealistic modern production given on a partitioned moving stage. I find this updating detrimental to the opera. The mystique of this dream opera is missing. The bright colors seem inappropriate, and often performers seem overly energetic, often rather tasteless. This is a bright, challenging production; you can see a brief video of parts of it on You Tube. The cast is remarkable. Jonas Kaufmann is astounding as Paul, vocally and dramatically He gives 110% throughout, his rich voice easily managing this incredibly difficult role. And Marlis Petersen is a perfect Marietta, easily singing those treacherous high notes. She is a beautiful woman who surely looks the role of Marietta. Kirill Petrenko's conducting is impassioned, and the fine orchestra produces masses of rich sound. Video and audio are state-of-the-art. If you love this Korngold masterpiece, you must have this terrific performance in spite of its ill-advised updating. Thee was a recent Teatro alla Scala production conducted by Alan Gilbert and starring Klaus Florian Vogt and the amazing Asmik Grigorian; let us hope that will appear on DVD. In the meantime, get this new Berlin production, even though on occasion you might wish to close your eyes. .
Offenbach's comic operetta Barbe-Bleu (Bluebeard) had its premiered in Paris in 1865 and was a tremendous success although since then it has lost much of its popularity. Here we have a modern production with sets by Chantal Thomas, costumes by Laurent Pelli This was June 25 and 29, 2019 at at the Lyon Opera. Engineers have captured a very realistic, well-balanced multi-channel audio picture The cast is uniformly strong, and conductor Michele Spotti keeps Offenbach's delightful score moving at an appropriate pace. There is much French dialogue in this operetta, and subtitles are provided in four languages. A bonus is a documentary about the composer called Tales of Offenbach with stage director, Laurent Pally, and Dame Felicity Lott, who stared in an early DVD of La Belle Hélène. If you enjoy French operetta this is for you.
Memory in Motion: Percussion Music in Surround is the title of this release of a film by Aiyun Huang. It concerns how percussionists memorize musical actions that are used in performance. The featured work is Greek composer Iannis Xenakis' Persephasa, and other composers were commissioned to write percussion music for the project. There are hundreds of varied percussion instruments, many producing the most delicate of sounds as well as incredibly complex rhythmic patterns. Performers are Kyle Andrews, Robert Cosgrove, Oliver Trembly-Noel, Alexander Haupt, Ryan Packard, Christian Smith, Sandro Valiante, Ewan Bowen, Diego Esinosa, Colin Frank, Katelyn King, Ben Reiner, and Karen Yu. Recordings were made over a period of several year in Canada, and the engineering takes full advantage of multi-channel possibilities. Visually I was a bit disappointed as often the screen is black and sometimes we see six different images at the same time. If you love the sounds of percussion perfectly played, this is for you, perhaps more for its aural and visual effect rather than musical merit.
R.E.B. (July 2021)