a cleverly scaled-down view of Korngold’s hauntingly compelling fable

a cleverly scaled-down view of Korngold’s hauntingly compelling fable

Peter Auty and Rachel Nicholls in Die Tote Stadt - Matthew Williams-Ellis

Peter Auty and Rachel Nicholls in Die Tote Stadt – Matthew Williams-Ellis

Erich Korngold was one of the most gifted musicians of the 20th century. Born in Brno in 1897, he wrote one-act operas in Vienna as a teenager and, in 1912, was the youngest composer to have a piece performed by Henry Wood at the Balls of graduation in London. Premiered in 1920, his complete opera Die Tote Stadt was a huge success in Europe that decade, but his reputation was unfairly damaged by his move to Hollywood in the 1930s and his subsequent fame as a composer of film music.

Die Tote Stadt, with its evocative soundtrack set in the “dead city” of Bruges but based on Korngold’s experience in post-World War I Vienna and the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, is an extraordinary work whose relevance has steadily grown in recent years. years old. Its haunting plot, in which the hero Paul is obsessed with the memory of his late wife Marie, then meets and dreams of the dancer Marietta who looks like her, is informed by Freud and the Symbolists, taken from a novel by Georges Rodenbach called Bruges. -la-Death.

But there was one downside to Die Tote Stadt’s performances, and that is the incomparable lavishness of Korngold’s lush orchestral score, glistening with echoes of Der Rosenkavalier’s Strauss, composed for a massive ensemble with seemingly endless added woodwinds and percussion. All praise, then, for this extremely skilful new version of Leonard Eröd’s 56-player Korngold score, designed so that the Belgian theater of La Monnaie could present the opera with the orchestra on stage.

As a basis for the semi-staging of the Longborough Festival Opera in its small theater, this orchestration is ideal, retaining Korngold’s colors but containing its excesses. Justin Brown conducts with idiomatic impetus and fervor, and the score has few terrors for an experienced Wagner orchestra.

There are still terrors galore for the lead singers, however, as Korngold’s sustained use of their upper registers is incessant, but they are overcome here by Peter Auty as Paul and Rachel Nicholls as Marie and Mariette. Auty’s intensity as he struggles with his attraction to the sultry Mariette while obsessed with the pure memory of the late Marie is heartbreaking, as Nicholls successfully oscillates between the ghostly image of Marie in his frame and the lush, decaying life. de Mariette in the city streets.

For Longborough, describing his production of Carmen Jacobi as semi-staged is understating what is a cleverly thought-out adaptation for his small stage: Nate Gibson’s designs have staggered platforms made of numerous frames and a shrine to Marie holding the remains of her children. long hair like Mélisande surrounded by candles, with effective lighting by Ben Ormerod that evokes the decadent depths of Bruges.

The supporting ensemble of fellow actors and dancers have a few moments to superficially shine, and Benson Wilson is more effective here as a touching Pierrot than Paul’s no-nonsense friend Frank. Stephanie Windsor-Lewis is a friendly housekeeper Brigitta.

The heart of the dream drama, however, remains Paul’s obsessive tug-of-war within himself, and here Korngold steps away from the novel to soften the ending. In the novel, he strangles Marietta with Marie’s hair; in the opera, that’s just his dream. He wakes up to find her alive, but rejects her and leaves the past behind, leaving Bruges for good. The symbol of an abandoned dead civilization is powerful and unsettling, with resonances in the present that should ensure that this compelling opera, in this practical new version, has a long afterlife.

Until June 27; festival runs until August 2nd. Tickets: lfo.org.uk

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.