Cher Public

You stepped out of a dream

One of opera’s great “what ifs?” is what would young Erich Wolfgang Korngold have contributed to the repertoire had the likes of The Adventures of Robin Hood (which is a damned great score and won him an Oscar, by the way) not beckoned him to Hollywood? At least we have Die tote Stadt (composed when he was 23) to set our imaginations aflame.

One of the most unappreciated outright masterpieces of 20th century opera (which the Met has deemed unworthy of production since 1923, when Maria Jeritza starred in it), the opera is alive and kicking, as it does in this recent performance from Hamburg with Simone Young conducting a cast lead by today’s undisputed greatest Lohengrin, Klaus Florian Vogt.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Die tote Stadt

Staatsoper Hamburg
Simone Young, conductor
22 March 2015

Paul – Klaus Florian Vogt
Marietta/Die Erscheinung Mariens – Meagan Miller
Frank/Fritz – Lauri Vasar
Brigitta – Cristina Damian
Juliette – Mélissa Petit
Lucienne – Gabriele Rossmanith
Victorin – Jun-Sang Han
Graf Albert – Jürgen Sacher

  • Will

    The late lamented NYCO did splendidly by Die Tote Stadt in its phantasmagoria production
    with Lauren as Marie/Marietta. Last year we had a tremendous concert performance in Boston by Odyssey Opera conducted by Gil Rose with Jay Hunter Morris and Meagan Miller that made everyone sit up and wonder why this opera wasn’t in the repertory. But it isn’t his only opera; there are more: Violanta, Das Wunder der Heliane, Die Kathrin, Der Ring des Polykrates. Surely, given his great work elsewhere, some of these are due for a revival.

    • Henry Holland

      I love Korngold’s music, Die Tote Stadt is my favorite opera. Best live performance of it I’ve been to: NYCO 2001 (I think) with John Horton Murray incredible as Paul in the classic Corsaro production. Best recording I have: Deutsche Oper Berlin 2009 with a tireless Stephen Gould and Christian Thielemann just amazing in the pit. Missed opportunity: the same Corsaro production in 1989 at NYCO, I’d already booked my travel and bought the tickets when a strike wiped out the fall season (and a performance of The Cunning Little Vixen as well). Went to a dull as watching paint dry performance of Aida at the Met instead. Boo!

      As for his other operas, I love them all to varying degrees. Violanta is fantastic, it would be a perfect double-bill partner with either Der Zwerg, Eine florentinische Tragödie or Bluebeard’s Castle. Der Ring des Polykrates is smaller-scaled but so beautiful and would be a good match with one of the Puccini one-acts.

      I love Heliane, I have the Decca recording and all the available pirates (including the orchestrally wonderful but poorly sung LPO performance of 2007), it’s got some flaws for sure: a too long opening scene and a libretto that’s short on characterization among them, but there’s plenty of flawed operas that get airings now and then, with some judicious cuts it could work.

      Die Kathrin has some gorgeous music in it, but the libretto is a total mess. The original libretto was rejected and Korngold didn’t do a very good job with the new one. I’ve never heard Die Stumme Serenade, I’ll have to get the CPO recording at some point.

      My favorite of his film scores is for the great Michael Curtiz drama The Sea Wolf. Edward G. Robinson is incredible, Ida Lupino and John Garfield are terrific and sexy Alexander Knox is wonderful as the doomed writer. Highly recommended.

  • Drelnis

    Anyone else find Meagan Miller’s vibrato unlistenable?

    • WindyCityOperaman

      • Drelnis

        I take that as a yes…

    • Camille

      No, I am finding her WOBBLING unlistenable—--and spoiling an otherwise entirely felicitous performance, (funny that it only happens in the middle voice, too), and chiefly for Herr Vogt’s unassailable sailing into the stratosphere and the unusually beautiful sounding Birgitta, at least thus far.

      What has happened to her voice? I have only heard it once, on the occasion of her debut at the MET, and that was only about eighteen months ago and then it showed no such problem.

      Ahimè, another one bites the dust? I hope not, as I’d looked forward to hearing her as the “B” Elisabeth in the upcoming Tannhäuser. Perhaps she has had time to recover from this vocal malaise? I hope so.

  • redbear

    I remember that he had planned to resume his composing and give up the good Hollywood money but just then was the Anschluss and suddenly Hollywood did not seem so bad.

    • Henry Holland

      The story of his Hollywood career and family’s escape from the Anschluss would make a good movie. He was in Hollywood when the Anschluss happened and he stayed. He contacted some friends and they got to his house and saved as much as they could, the Nazi’s arrived a few hours later. He frantically worked on getting his wife and kids out of Austria, they caught literally the last train out before the borders were closed. Wow.

      • JohninSeattle

        I recollect a Christopher Hampton play that explored the terrain of German Exiles in Hollywood and working in “the Dream Factory”. It was a cavalcade kinda piece with the Mann Brothers, Brecht and oodles more putting in an appearance.

        • manou
          • Henry Holland

            Korngold and his family lived at 9936 Toluca Lake Drive in Toluca Lake, down the street from the Warner Brothers studio where he worked and near Disney Studios. A former owner was Boris Karloff, a quick Google search indicates he lived there from 1931-34. I made a pilgrimage years ago, it’s a nice house in a nice area.

            Here’s a fantastic summary of Korngold’s life and works with a bunch of sound clips:


            Most of the exiles lived on the Westside or at the beach. Schoenberg lived down the street from OJ Simpson’s former house on Rockingham Avenue, Schoenberg and his wife Gertrude were popular hosts for the exiles. Stravinsky lived on North Wetherly Drive above Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, he was most definitely *not* welcome at Schoenberg’s house. Thomas Mann lived in Pacific Palisades and so on.

  • SilvestriWoman

    Korngold is glorious! Too bad Renee didn’t have the Met mount some of his stuff for her, rather than bel canto rep. This is some of the most beautiful, unaffected singing I’ve heard from her in well over a decade.

    • Rowna

      Gorgeous singing. And just in case anyone hasn’t heard this gem from Renee:

  • Tamerlano

    This is some of my favorite singing ever from Renée… Beautiful piece of singing.

  • Baritenor

    Someone get Netrebko or Kaufmann interested in this piece. It’s the only way we’ll see it at the Met anytime soon.

  • Bill

    Baritenor -- Vogt is just fine as Paul. He did it
    in Vienna a couple of years back and was quite wonderful in the role -- with Denoke, who was alluring both
    vocally and physically. The score is so lush -- and so much can be done with the sets and staging. Probably
    when Netrebko’s German is sufficient for her to master
    the role, it will be a little late for her as she seems to have a large number of important new roles scheduled in the next few years. The score (not the aria) might
    have been too taxing with the plush orchestra for Fleming to have considered ever doing the opera in full on the stage.

    • Porgy Amor

      Vogt is excellent in the Finnish National Opera DVD on Opus Arte. It’s one of the best performances I’ve seen or heard from him, his singing at the close achieving great poignancy; I find it hard to imagine it better served. An imaginative production by Holten too (a mute actress on stage a lot as the wife), with striking designs by Es Devlin (we’ll soon be getting a look at more of her work in the Met Otello). I never seem to get that excited about Nylund (the Marietta), but she’s fine, and Sari Nordqvist is quite an asset as Brigitta.

      • armerjacquino

        Es Devlin is one of those rare people truly deserving of the word ‘genius’.

        • Often admonished

          Her work for the Pet Shop Boys and Miley Cyrus is wonderful.

          The opera product is a bit spotty IMO:
          Salome was very good, the claustrophobia of the set actually helped the singers voices project
          Les Troyens much less so, the horse was totally worthy of a Lepage Ring (except it usually worked)
          Don Giovanni was an expensive mess. But in her defense, it was meant to be like that.

          • manou

            The Mahagonny sets were brilliant. But maybe “genius” is a tad hyperbolic.

            • armerjacquino

              I think the sets for LIGHT SHINING and THE NETHER are worthy of the description.

  • Stefan

    Die Tote Stadt is one of my favorite productions of all time at the SF Opera. They brought in the Willy Decker production that was done in so many cities in Europe. The cast included Emily Magee and Torsten Kerl. Here is a clip from the run.


    • WindyCityOperaman

      • Stefan

        Thanks for posting the actual clip. I screwed up my post but that was what I had intended to do! :)

        I like the Friedrich production also but not quite as much as the Decker!

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Yes, a production at either the Met or LOC is long overdue. Designers, directors and producers take note: there’s enough in the score and libretto that is other-worldly enough. My favorite staging was that used Gotz Friedrich’s video production starring Americans King, Armstrong and Murray -- despite convention it still managed to have a controversial ending:

    • Henry Holland

      If by “controversial” you mean “really dumb as it completely contradicts everything the opera is about”, sure. :-)

      It’s a shame that James King doesn’t have any nuance or connection with the words, he has a voice that’s perfect for Paul.

  • Krunoslav

  • Camille

    That was indeed a lovely performance, Jungfer Marianne, and thanks much for capturing it for us; aside from Miller’s wobblings, of which I have heard FAR worse. Only temporary, one hopes.

    Were there any cuts in this performance? It seemed to flow by so gracefully it was over before I knew it. Simone Young has come a loooooooooong way from that awful Pagliacci I heard years ago. What a difference the right repertory and the requisite experience makes.

    After all this time, I still am not quite sure of my feelings about Vogt’s unusual voice. It sounds to me as if he were the world’s oldest Vienna choir boy at times, but am so grateful to hear someone tranverse the passaggio in such an effortless manner and sing with such grace, for which he gets the palm. I was not here to hear his debut as Lohengrin at the MET, about which Bianca Castafiore raved and do wish he could return for that some day.