Korngold: Die tote Stadt

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Korngold
LABELS: Orfeo
ALBUM TITLE: Die tote Stadt
WORKS: Die tote Stadt
PERFORMER: Torsten Keri, Angela Denoke, Bo Skovhus, Daniela Denschlag; Vienna State Opera Choir; VPO/Donald Runnicles
CATALOGUE NO: C 634 0421
Korngold’s finest hour came in 1920, when he was 23, with the premiere of this opera. The Dead City is about a man, Paul, who is unable to accept that his great love Marie has died. When another woman, Marietta, a dancer, comes into his life he treats her as Marie reborn, and it is only through a sustained dream-cum-nightmare that he comes to realise that what’s dead is dead. The music of this sternly moral fable is succulent to the last degree. It’s by no means a great opera, but it is an interesting and serious one, and deserves more hearings than it gets.

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This recording from last year’s Salzburg Festival is hardly more than a stop-gap, with uncertain singing from both the lead roles, though Torsten Kerl (Paul) and Angela Denoke (Marie and Mariettta) both improve as the opera proceeds, as does the balance between singers and orchestra. Runnicles conducts a rather too raucous account of the score, which threatens to become all climaxes, which is less exciting than it sounds. The rival Naxos recording is by no means ideal, but it is half the price and has a complete text, though only in German. As usual with Orfeo, you have to make do with a summary of the plot. Michael Tanner