Opera News, February 2020
Jeffrey A. Leipsic
Korngold: Die tote Stadt, Bayerische Staatsoper, ab 18. November 2019
Die tote Stadt
Bavarian State Opera's production of Korngold's Tote Stadt (seen Nov. 18) cannot truly be claimed as a "new" staging, since director Simon Stone had already staged the opera to great acclaim in Basel in 2016 with basically the same sets, by Ralph Myers, and costumes, by Mel Page. But three years later, and with an entirely new cast, Stone has given the staging enough changes for it to qualify as new. The revolving stage shows the audience the many rooms of the apartment of the principal character, Paul who is coming
to terms with the death of his young wife. Paul's shrine to the deceased Marie is a room with walls jammed with pictures, the lock of Marie's blonde hair now a blonde wig. When his dead wife appears to Paul as an apparition, she is bald, suggesting that her death was due to cancer.

Paul is haunted throughout by visions of Marie. The appearance of the dancer Marietta Marie's double, throws Paul into an emotional tornado. Paul feels a compulsion to possess Marietta totally. He stalks her and, after they have slept together, kills her. The wild, orgylike Act II, played here in modern dress, resembles an over-the-top version of the commedia dell'arte characters in Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos. The children's chorus of Act III invades every room of Paul s house, some of them treating Paul as if he were their father, a symbolism so clear that it need not be explained. Paul is betrayed by his best friend, Frank, who is here caught showering at Marietta's apartment. Paul's chambermaid Brigitta abandons him, disillusioned over his affair with Marietta. After the murder of Marietta, Paul is amazed to find Brigitta once again in his house and, astoundingly, Marietta returning on her bicycle Paul's affair with Marietta has all been a Freudian nightmare. Paul burns his pictures of Marie and her wig, and he is ready to move on.

The production sacrifices the symbolic significance of Bruges---the "dying city" of the opera's title—as the city plays no role in the designs or staging, but one is drawn into Paul's inner world with an energy that is impossible to resist. Sparks fly in the staging of the interpersonal relationships, making every confrontation seem intensely real.

The cast of singers could not have been better. Jonas Kaufmann, as Paul, gave the performance of his life, throwing himself heart, soul and voice into the character and singing with staggering power and intensity. The heldentenorish quality of Kaufmann's voice—a baritonal core combined with thrilling top notes, in a role that abounds in them—and his emotional commitment made his interpretation of Paul overwhelming. Marlis Petersen whose Marietta ate up the stage and whose voice was in pristine form kept pace with Kaufmann. Her singing of the rightfully famous lute song, "Glück das mir verblieb" (the lute here a microphone), melted the heart. Polish baritone Andrzej Filonczyk showed a superbly burnished
voice as Frank/Fritz, and Jennifer Johnston offered true alto quality as Brigitta. The other smaller roles were cast from the company's strength.

What can one say about conductor Kirill Petrenko that has not already been said? His reading of Korngold's late-Romantic score mixed poignancy and explosive passion, his orchestra and singers responding to his every gesture The evening was a triumph for all involved.

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