Thursday, February 12, 2009

Die tote Stadt - the news in brief

This will have to be short because my brain is so overloaded from last night.

So, the news in brief. Mixed feelings about the production, which in certain ways is extremely striking - the stage-within-a-stage in the dream sequence, the stunning projections and shadowplays of the procession, the brief glimpse of Marietta's 1920s showgirl glory at the end of Act 1, and Paul's momentary hesitation on the threshold as he leaves at the very end. Never sure, though, about productions that show one thing while the text tells you something totally different - eg references to the beauty of Marietta's hair when she is walking around Paul's room with a shaven head. But the imagery is concentrated, the concepts focused and mainly appropriate and the walking houses are a super touch.

I think the singers could have done with a break after Act 1 - the three-act version is a preferable format. But Nadja Michael, despite a little awkward intonation on high, does have the power, the presence and the legs for Marietta; Stephen Gould's voice is big enough to carry off Paul's massively demanding role, and when it's a case of standing and delivering he does so to the manner born; and Gerry Finlay stole the show with the Pierrot Tanzlied.

(But I dream of the ideal Paul, with voice, drama, heart and soul, and he exists, if he could be persuaded... PAGING MR KAUFMANN...PAGING MR KAUFMANN....)

Some concern in the extended first half that everyone was running out of steam, including Metzmacher, whose conducting often felt episodic, failing to shape and build the tension across the long spans; eg Paul's first aria describing his meeting with Marietta came over with little sense of its narrative structure, and that wasn't our tenor's doing but our conductor's.

In the second half (well, the last third), second wind seemed to take hold: the procession and the Paul-Marietta scene alongside it were utterly electrifying. And there the full symbolism of the production, perhaps indeed the unconscious symbolism of the opera itself, came shining out: the war of the 19th versus the 20th century...the strictured, superstitious, hypocritical 19th, transfixed by an idealised and unrealistic past, when faced with the glamour, free spirit and sexual liberation of the 20th, is so threatened that it can only strangle it.

And the terror that Paul may not represent only the 19th century, but the wilfully barbarian 21st.

As for mourning... I still can't comprehend how Korngold could have created such a marvel of human empathy at the age of 20. He was only 23 at the time of the premiere in December 1920. Was it the air he breathed, Vienna in the First World War, the crumbling world, the death of childhood, the end of an era? Or did he just...know - and most of all, have the musical technique to reach directly into his audience's hearts when conveying that empathy?

There was a great deal I didn't understand in the opera when I first studied its 'musical and dramatic structure' in 1987. Now perhaps I understand a little better.

What I still don't understand is why I first gravitated to this, of all operas, in good times, student days, well before coming to terms with bereavement became such a dominant theme in my life (both my parents and my sister died within a few years of each other).

Today is the 15th anniversary of my mother's death.

"The end is not as abrupt as that. Your name is still spoken. Your face is still remembered. And what you said, and what you did, and what you failed to do, these are still remembered... As long as one is left who remembers you, so long is the matter unended...until you are quite will not be finished with the earth even though you are dead."

(Ferenc Molnar, Liliom - quoted in the ROH programme...)