Korngold: Die tote Stadt

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Korngold
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Die tote Stadt
PERFORMER: Thomas Sunnegårdh, Katarina Dalayman, Anders Bergström, Ingrid Tobiasson; Tomtberga School Children’s Choir, Royal Swedish Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660060/1
Full marks to Naxos for bringing out only the second recording of Korngold’s best and best-known opera. A good, budget-price version will certainly help to bring this glorious work to a wider audience. And in many ways the recording is worthwhile: Leif Segerstam has a fine feeling for the breadth and depth of Korngold’s intricate orchestrations and the nervous, erotic tension of his personal form of expressionism. The great bells of Act II are given a vivid presence and Katarina Dalayman gives an admirable performance as the vibrant heroine Marietta. And Thomas Sunnegårdh is a highly dramatic Paul, although the timbre of his voice is a trifle thin.

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I do have serious reservations, however, which add up to the fact that this is no replacement for the older recording, made in the Seventies with Erich Leinsdorf conducting (RCA). First, this is a live performance from Stockholm and it has all of a live performance’s attendant problems: the sound of feet tramping over the stage, varying distance in the placements of the singers, dodgy ensemble here and there – not too much, but unfortunately present in the famous Lute Song – and although there is no applause at the end of Act I there is a mysterious interjection of it shortly before the end of the act which might prove difficult to live with on repeated listening. Secondly, and to my view more seriously, the opera has been heavily cut. While that may make sense for stage performance, tightening up the drama and making life considerably easier for the over-taxed leading singers, we do lose out on some very beautiful passages – a large chunk of Paul’s Act I aria describing the likeness between Marietta and his dead wife, half of Marietta’s ‘O tanz, o rausch’, portions of the pair’s central confrontation in Act II and more. The libretto is given in German, but not in translation. Buy this version if you don’t know the opera, and if you like it then buy the other recording too.