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Die tote Stadt / Violanta

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Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby scott curry » Fri May 25, 2012 11:19 pm

Interesting to read Opera Australia's blurb about it's upcoming Tote Stadt - fact is, the pit is too small for the size of orchestra that they are using, and that the orchestra will be piped in from somewhere else (as I believe they do with some musicals). The smallest theatre I've seen this opera in was Oldenburg, Germany (with the magnificent James O'Neal as Paul) and they seemed to cope very well without the "cinematic surround sound" to compensate for the lack of space in the pit. As for the optical technology, it sounds like the more they make it look like a movie, the less it will distress the audience that the AO seems to be wanting to attract. As if the score wasn't colorful enough...
On a more optimistic note - who is going to Violanta in Bremerhaven on 2/6? I've just seen Der Ring des Polykrates in Lübeck, and will make the journey to Bremerhaven to have seen the complete double-bill within a few weeks. Top marks to these smaller opera houses for having the courage to mount these works! Interesting to see that Violanta will be sung by Kirsten Blanck who we know as Lieschen from our Polykrates recording.
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby eleftherios » Tue Jun 05, 2012 8:35 am

Hi Scott,

Did you finally saw the performance of Violanta in Bremerhaven on 2/6 ?
Any comment and impressions ?
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby peter hodgson » Sun Jun 17, 2012 10:58 pm

I attended Polykrates on Friday 15th June in Luebeck and also Violanta on Saturday 16th In Bremerhaven. Both performances were excellent. The Bremerhaven production of Violanta was odd, to say the least: the woman singing Violanta was a little long in the tooth for the part - she looked more like Alfonso's mother rather than his lover, and the costumes and production were dreadful. The Luebeck Polykrates was beautifully sung and played although the hero's costume (plus fours) was truly laughable. Why is it that so many German directors of opera are so totally incompetent? I see that Luebeck are producing "Die tote Stadt" next year and I shall be back for that too. Maybe they will have found a director who is not a total amateur by then.
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby scott curry » Wed Jun 20, 2012 8:30 am

Thanks for asking, eleftherios.
Violanta or Nerina? (not a review)
An increasing interest in creating stage characters that are mentioned but do not (usually) appear (to mind springs Puccini's Marchese Attavanti and Wagner's Herzeleide seen in recent productions) is continued in Bremerhaven's new production of Violanta. If one had not independently conceived a mental image of Violanta's sister, Nerina, mentioned several times, and indeed the catalyst of the tragedy, there was, by the end of the evening, no doubt about how she looks and how she contributed (unbeknown to everyone in the theatre except the protagonists) to the unfolding of events. Most poetically, during the Vorspiel, she pondered large projections of the two sister's childhood, continuing to smoke a cigarette at an appropriate moment, pushed Violanta into the knife that Simone was actually thrusting at Alfonso, and at the moment of Violanta's death, in the last bars of the opera, walked with her into that bright light that we're supposed to see when we move on into the next world.
I look forward to seeing what Keikobad looks like.
The half-full theatre at the premiere ("actually well-sold for such an unknown opera" said the box-office lady) did not want to stop applauding the performance, which despite being a one-acter, was performed alone. The enlivened audience at the premiere party was as astonished at the immediate appeal of the opera, as I was to hear that there would be no follow-up performances in the ensuing season.
Hearing it live for the first time, I was most struck by the vividness of the orchestration, acoustically and stylistically at home in this exquisite theatre. I don't know any other work where the harps are kept so busy!
That Violanta has not found her way back onto the world's stages after her initial triumphant first years, remains a mystery.
Well worth the trip, especially so soon after the Polykrates in Lübeck. On another positive note, it was gratifying to hear the numerous excellent Korean singers (of whom there are many studying here in Germany) in both operas (also in Krenek's Das geheime Königreich, with which Polykrates was performed).
Heliane in Brno is next!
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby peter hodgson » Thu Jun 21, 2012 12:17 pm

Since Scott Curry has reviewed Violanta in Bremerhaven, I too will comment.

The performance was first class, as always from this very neglected provincial German opera company. The theatre itself, after its renovation a few years ago, is indeed beautiful and I would recommend a visit to anyone - the Stadtheater Bremerhaven has a most adventurous repertoire (next season includes Peter Eotvos' "Love and Other Demons" and Glass's "Fall of the House of Usher").

However, I found the production annoying and misguided. The concept of making Violanta's dead sister into a character, the use of projections of photos of Violanta and her sister on holiday during the beautiful prelude was widely misguided and the changed ending (Violanta's sister pushes the heroine onto the knife in this version when in actual fact Simone [Violanta's husband] tries to stab Alfonso [her lover] and Violanta sacrifices herself by juxtaposing her own body) was just plain pointless and silly. Another example of German directors trying to impose their own confused interpretations onto opera. Whilst in the case of a well-known opera, there is some excuse for changing the plot and setting in order to give some "new" angle, in the case of an opera which 99.99% of the audience would never have seen before there is no excuse. The audience will have gone away with the impression that Korngold actually wrote a silent part for Violanta's dead sister's ghost and that the ghost murdered her own sister. I also found the costumes to be laughable. Alfonso, the seducer, wore the top half of a head waiter's uniform over his bare chest and his bottom half was encased in shiny skin-tight silver trousers, low cut so as to permit pubic hair to peep out. I suppose the idiot director/designers thought that was "sexy" - in actual fact the sensuality is in the music and you don't need a few wisps of pubic hair to make it sensual. Pathetic.

I agree with Scott Curry that it is sad that beautiful works like Violanta are so seldom performed - however, 10th rate directors with more imagination than talent do a great disservice to rarely performed works.
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby scott curry » Thu Jun 21, 2012 11:02 pm

We have a bit of a thread starting here…
Allow me to comment on your comments. (I especially wrote "not a review"! - I leave that to the more qualified, musicologists and the like…)
Glass's "Usher" seems to be having a bit of a heyday in Germany at the moment. To even mention this work on the EWK site is bordering on sacrilege!
I was repetiteur for a production (of the Glass) in the 1990's, and, like the cast, hated every minute of it. The audience loved it, but then they only had to hear it once.
Having been to subjected to several of his operas in my day, it was "business as usual" without any regard to subject or text. Infinitely more evocative are the settings of Debussy and the brilliant Larry Sitsky.
Living in Germany for so long, I've given up being irritated by German opera production - like complaining about the weather! I've never been to the opera to see a "production", and I'm sure that's also not why Peter Hodgson made the trek to Bremerhaven.
The irritating aspect of Alfonso's first scene was that he'd been lying around staring at Violanta for quite some time before he sang "Wie schön seid Ihr- wie herrlich schön!". This outburst has its parallel in Tote Stadt when Paul sees Marietta for the first time, "Wunderbar!", both being composed surges of great excitement. In this scenic interpretation, the moment fell very flat.
Still, it wasn't production-wise anywhere nearly as disappointing as the Trier Katrin in (I think) 1999. Did anyone see that?
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby peter hodgson » Fri Jun 22, 2012 1:19 am

Dear Scott,
I am sorry you don't like Glass's music. That is YOUR problem, not mine. However, mentioning his music on an EWK website is no more sacriligious than would be mentioning Haydn, whom I find an intolerable bore. But that's a matter of taste.

I also must mention that, although I don't live in Germany, I attend German opera performances 10-20 times a year, so I am well aware of the odd (indeed bizarrely ignorant and perverted) tastes of many German opera directors. I recall a Faust on roller skates in Duisberg, a Tannhaeuser in Essen which had the audience in fits of laughter when the hunting party shot deers (nubile girls in fur coats and Playboy bunny ears but 95% naked apart from that), a Turandot in Duesseldorf with Puccini dancing on a grand piano, and this year's Trittico in Hannover with the barge captain in Il Tabarro dressed as Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Best of all, I am still giggling at "Die tote Stadt" in Hagen where Paul was a certified lunatic, locked up for having killed Marie/Marietta, who surrounded himself with bottles of his own urine and then murdered his nurse (obviously she was Brigitta, a nurse in a criminal asylum not a housekeeper as Korngold foolishly imagined originally). I won't even mention the naked old men in a Tristan in Aachen.

My point remains, which I hope you agree with: it's OK (I suppose) to impose a silly interpretation on a well-known piece - the audience can just think the director is a total retard and enjoy the performance (usually it's musically excellent). However, with a little known work (and Korngold is largely unknown to many) these misguided productions by hopeless amateurs are counter productive: the audience might think Korngold was as stupid as the director.

And so to the Luebeck "Ring des Polykrates": I enjoyed this very much - the orchestra was really very good indeed (as were most of the soloists - certainly better singing than on my CPO disc) and the production was fairly harmless (apart from Wilhelm's plus fours). Also the Krenek which completed the double bill was brilliantly performed and produced. I note that the production team was Italian, not German, and the whole production came from an Italian opera house. No extra comment! Also, Luebeck is putting on "Die tote Stadt" next year - I shall be there.
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby korngoldfan » Wed Jun 27, 2012 6:12 pm

Dear Scott, dear Peter,
I am a newly registered member of this forum and am very fascinated by your discussion. All the more so since I saw (and heard) the two perfomances in question in Lübeck (Polykrates) and in Bremerhaven (Violanta) - the latter even twice, 2/6 and 16/6. I fully agree with the positive reaction to the performance and production in Lübeck, which the two of you seem to share. As for the Bremerhaven presentation of 'Violanta' I disagree with Peter's harsh criticism ('dreadful', 'annoying and misguided'). I am of the opinion that the 'invention' of Violanta's sister as a mute role on the stage provided some psychological background to Violanta's ambiguous feelings and actions - and, what is more, it added to the thrill the audience experienced. And after the first night the audience increased in number!
As you can see I am not a 'purist' in the evaluation of opera productions (neither with regard to well-known nor to unknown operas). On the other hand a line must be drawn as soon as the interpretation completely gets out of hand and becomes ridiculous - like the interpretation of 'Die tote Stadt' in Hagen. And in so far I am glad that I can agree with Peter's interpretation (Paul as a 'certified lunatic'). I have seen this opera 48 (forty-eight!) times by now and hope nobody judges me as a 'certified lunatic' because of that!!! By the way, Scott, it was the wonderful production in Oldenburg in 1991 which set me on the track - and it still ranks among the top- 5-productions I have seen so far, with the performance in Gera and Altenburg of at least the same quality.
So much for the moment
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby peter hodgson » Thu Jun 28, 2012 12:12 pm

Dear Klaus
48 times! 48 performances of die tote Stadt!And I thought I was a bit of an extremist, having seen it on stage a mere 15 times (14 different productions). And which were the most memorable? For me, the Bremerhaven production, done in the Stadtbad whilst the Stadttheater was being renovated was the most amazing one: imagine the orchestra spread out along one side of the disused swimming pool with the performance taking place in the empty pool itself and on a flame-surrounded platform for Paul's final aria. Amazing acoustics too. Pity it can never be repeated as the old swimming baths have now been pulled down I believe. Other great productions I recall were in Kiel and Gera. I am puzzled as to why the Paul Decker Salzburg production has been toured all over the world as I wouldn't even put it into my top five versions. And yes, Hagen was the nadir - Hagen is a theatre which specialises in bizarre productions I have found.

But back to Violanta in Bremerhaven: whilst we can beg to differ about the invention of her dead sister (I honestly think that if the precocious Erich had really wanted Violanta's sister's ghost on stage, his fevered imagination aided and abetted by Papa K) would have thought of it), my point remains: when putting on a rare or unfamiliar opera, the production team really should stick fairly closely to the original, whilst they are welcome to go over the top in terms of imagination with a popular warhorse. And one other point which I omitted to mention was that Violanta (although she sung beautifully) looked old enough to be her lover's mother or auntie, which was a bit of a distraction. Never mind, it was still worth the trip to Bremerhaven, a city which seems to have gone seriously downhill in the past ten years thanks to the efforts of the local authorities to make it "trendy".
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby korngoldfan » Sun Jul 01, 2012 4:06 pm

Dear Peter,
yes, 48 performances! And in the course of time this has become some sort of sport for me. Actually, I usually make fun of myself when mentioning this 'obsession'. But, I presume, there are worse hobbies than this.
As for your question about my most memorable productions, here they are: apart from the above-mentioned ones in Oldenburg and Gera/Altenburg I was most impressed by the productions in Antwerp (in 1995; the famous Goetz-Friedrich-production from Berlin), Stockholm, Helsinki, Bonn and Frankfurt/M. And the worst productions apart from that in Hagen were those in Bremen and in Nancy. The others were 'acceptable' and often more than that.
I think your differentiation between production and performance is reasonable (cf. your posting from Sunday June 17: performances excellent, production dreadful); sometimes I am impressed by a performance although the production might be sub-standard. But here again the discrepance must not be too gross. This, for example, occurred to me this season when I was watching 'Tannhäuser' in Bremen. During the overture, this wonderful overture, they staged a bank-raid with Tannhäuser as one of the robbers - the only way out was to close your eyes and imagine you were in your study listening to a CD...
Back to Bremerhaven: I saw the production in the swimming-pool, too, and was impressed, not only by the location. But, Peter, "if...Erich had really wanted" Paul to commit suicide by setting his house aflame, he certainly "would have thought of it", wouldn't he?
In two days I will be back in Bremerhaven listening to a concert including Korngold's film music of 'The Adventures of Robin Hood'.
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby peter hodgson » Sun Jul 01, 2012 7:44 pm

Dear Klaus
I double-checked my own tote Stadt score and it's actually 17 (16 different). Yes, I would put the Bremen one down there at the bottom too (the one with the zombie-women rising from the tomb). I missed the performance in Antwerp (however if it was the famous Goetz Friedrich one from Berlin where Paul shoots himself at the end, I was in Berlin on the day of the premiere entirely by chance and so got in to see its first performance in Europe for many years and I suppose the start of its revival). I can't agree with your verdict on the Nancy version as I liked it very much (especially the nude bit!!!) - I was incredibly impressed with the black British woman who sang Marietta in Bonn as well.

Did you by any chance see Das Wunder der Heliane in Kaiserslautern? I enjoyed that too - so much better than the alleged all-star concert perormance in London.

Next year I see we have tote Stadt in Luebeck and the double bill in Augsburg. Do you know of any others in Europe in the coming months which aren't listed on http://www.operabase.com ?

Perhaps we will meet one day - I would take a bet we have already been in the same audience unknownst to each other.
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby korngoldfan » Mon Jul 02, 2012 4:41 pm

Dear Peter,
thank you for your prompt reply. What I forgot to mention in my last post was the fact that I completely agree with you as regards the Decker production of the 'tote Stadt'. It is really incredible that it made its tour around the world with the bald-headed Marie/Marietta; and I think it is a shame that even opera houses like Covent Garden did not manage to produce their own 'tote Stadt', but just bought the Salzburg production. I myself saw it in Vienna and in Amsterdam and am still convinced that it is not worth a longer trip. For this reason I cancelled a trip to Bilbao this spring as soon as I learnt that they would stage the above-mentioned production. - As for Nancy we actually disagree in our evaluation. Here I found that the production outweighed the performance, not matter how good the orchestra and the singers may have been. Splitting the stage up in six equal-looking, i.e. identical rooms was a major 'sin' to my mind. Paul and Marietta never met, and even the highlight, Marietta's song, was sung in two different rooms with the effect that there was a lack of motion (their embraces grabbed the void in front of them), which affected my emotion (awful pun, I know). What is more: they advertised the opera on posters and in their leporello with photos of Bruges at the time of Rodenbach, full of atmosphere...(one of the smaller posters adorns my study, by the way). And the production itself? No reference to Bruges whatsoever...However, I have to accept that this production by Philipp Himmelmann was highly praised in a lot of reviews, and I am just an amateur. - Bonn's Marietta was Morenike Fadayomi (from the opera house in Düsseldorf) - she was excellent. Apart from this role I saw her in Braunschweig as Lady Macbeth of Mzensk (a role she sang in Oldenburg,too) and as La Wally in Düsseldorf - really fantastic!
Now back to Korngold: Indeed I saw 'Das Wunder der Heliane' in Kaiserslautern and regretted that I lived so far away from K. that I could not see it a second / third...time. A lady sitting next to me almost bragged that she was seeing Heliane for the fifth time. You see that there are some more Korngold fans out there than just me.
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby peter hodgson » Mon Jul 02, 2012 5:07 pm

I was confusing the Nancy one with the Gelsenkirchen. Yes, the separate boxes bit was a bit odd, but the theatre was lovely and the performance very good. The Gelsenkirchen was the nude one.

I see CPO has just issued a CD set of Die Stumme Serenade - I have never heard any of this. Is it any good?
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby korngoldfan » Tue Jul 03, 2012 11:24 am

Dear Peter,
what a relief! It does not only happen to me that different perfomances are mixed up with each other. True, the opera house in Nancy and its location at the famous square are almost unique. The Gelsenkirchen opera house contrasts with it considerably, doesn't it? What irritated me with their production of 'Die tote Stadt' was the setting in Vienna. Paul was singing of Bruges and he actually was - according to the setting - in the Austrian-Hungarian capital at the beginning of the 20th Century.
Unfortunately, I do not know the CD set of 'Die Stumme Serenade', but I will try to get it.
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Re: Die tote Stadt / Violanta

Postby korngoldfan » Fri Jul 20, 2012 3:39 pm

Excellent news for all Korngold fans and his 'tote Stadt' in particular.
I have just read (Schott-musik.de) that apart from the production in Lübeck next spring (5 April), which is known to the board users already, there will be additional productions of this opera in Innsbruck (9 February 2013) and in Hof (8 March). What is of special interest to me is the fact that the conductor of the Innbruck production will be Alexander Rumpf who used to be the principal conductor of the 'Oldenburgisches Staatsorchester' for several years.
So my 50th performance of 'Die tote Stadt' will presumably be in Innsbruck or in Hof.
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