Canadian Premiere: 30 Jan – 5 Feb 2016
In April 2007, Toronto-based Opera in Concert gave the Canadian premiere of Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, but in a concert-version only. The honor of presenting the staged Canadian premiere of Korngold’s masterpiece went to Calgary Opera. Though only three performances of the production were offered, Korngold’s granddaughter attests below to its impressive and memorable impact.
Director Kelly Robinson Paul David Pomeroy
Conductor Bramwell Tovey Marie/Marietta Lyne Fortin
Brigitte Emilia Boteva
Frank / Fritz Brett Polegato
Calgary Opera webpage
Calgary Opera “Die tote Stadt Study Guide” (pdf)
Night at the Opera
Some months ago, my husband and I received an invitation to attend the Canadian premiere of my grandfather’s opera, Die tote Stadt, in Calgary, Alberta. My initial reaction was, “Calgary in January? What is Opera of the Bahamas staging this winter?!” Nevertheless, we forged ahead with our travel plans, and I couldn’t possibly be more glad that we did. Happily, the weather cooperated, but more importantly, the entire experience was a fairy tale from beginning to end. Prior to our departure, many emails were exchanged with several Calgary Opera administrative staff members, who were eager to ensure that our visit was organized and memorable.
Friday night, January 29th, we attended the ‘Taste of the Opera’ event at the Mamdani Opera Centre, an old reconstituted church, complete with pipe organ in the ‘sanctuary’. I had been asked to participate in a panel discussion, and appeared on stage with Bob McPhee, the Opera’s General Director/CEO who acted as moderator, Kelly Robinson, the director, and Scott Reid, the set designer. Bob asked appropriate questions of each of us, and for my part, I was able to talk a bit about my grandfather, tell about some of my experiences as ‘steward of his legacy’, and finally, share some of the more famous Korngold anecdotes. But what was most interesting for me was listening to the director’s responses to some very insightful questions. His explanations about the plot were deep and profound – his discussions of love, loss and grief, the divine and the profane — all very enlightening. Afterward, as we nibbled on Belgian waffles (the theme of the night being Belgium, thanks to the Rodenbach novel entitled, Bruges-la-Morte, on which the opera’s story is based), I met a gentleman whose name is Clay Harris, who travels all over the world to hear Die tote Stadt, and for whom this was his 48th production!
My husband and I happen to know two cellists in the orchestra, whom we haven’t seen in quite a few years, so we had a happy reunion on Saturday afternoon. We also gained some insights about the orchestra parts. As musicians, we had the honor and pleasure of playing the work with the Deutsche Oper Berlin in Los Angeles in 1985, and at that time, there were many errors in the parts. Thankfully, there are far less now.
Saturday night arrived at last. We were hosted by Michael Brown, Board of Directors Chair, and his wife, at the lovely Jubilee Auditorium. There were drinks before Act I, at the first intermission, and at an elegant reception following Act III. I was photographed with some of the singers, as well as the director and conductor, and signed my autograph on several programs. It was very heartwarming to learn how touched people were to have a relative of the composer present.
The production was absolutely stupendous in every regard. The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra is a very fine group of musicians, and they played beautifully under Maestro Bramwell Tovey’s skillful direction. The set, lighting and costuming designs were all gorgeous. Projections of old photographs of Bruges overlaid on the sets were very effective. The Marietta’s Lied was a smash success, as always, and I had tears in my eyes, thinking of how pleased my grandfather would be to know that this work which attained so much success in the 1920’s, was being performed in Calgary, Magdeburg and Paris on the very same night.
At the beginning of Act II, Marietta’s dance troupe entered from the back of the hall wearing colorful, whimsical costumes. Some wore large papier-mâché heads, and one held an adorable, live dog. Cartwheels and glorious singing ensued, but the Pierrot’s Lied was truly a standout. The baritone, Brett Polegato, played Frank quite sternly in Act I, but in turn, played Fritz in an almost comical way. I’ve never heard this aria sung in the manner he does it. The first three phrases do not crescendo, as is so often the case, rather, he comes away on the third. And his facial expressions and gestures were so effective – again, nothing like I have ever witnessed before.
As for the principals, I was struck by how relaxed I felt as the evening wore on. These roles are so punishing, the tessitura so high, Paul and Marie/Marietta can occasionally, and understandably, be heard to be straining by the end of the night. But not these two. I spoke to David Pomeroy (Frank) afterward, and he explained his method/technique for making it through without ever forcing. He had just sung the role in Frankfurt last fall (2015), so he knows it intimately. Lyne Fortin (Marietta/Marie) plays the part so coquettishly, and her voice is so angelic, I was completely won over. She too was able to sustain the high notes in glorious fashion to the bitter end.
Director, Kelly Robinson’s concept of this work is spot on – clear and straightforward, but never dull or condescending to the audience. I, personally have now heard seven productions of Die tote Stadt in various cities all over the world, and I have never come away so completely gratified. Calgary Opera is to be congratulated on a job well done. And we are most grateful to everyone involved for a truly unforgettable experience.
~Kathrin Korngold Hubbard
News & ArticlesFrom the Calgary Opera website: “Read about Clay Harris, and his connection to Die tote Stadt. When he sees it in Calgary, it will be his 48th time.”
Calgary Herald: 26 January 2016
( Also at the Leader Post )
Calgary Herald: 31 January 2016
Canadian Standard: 1 February 2016
Classical Voice North America: 4 February 2016
Page last updated February 2016