Die tote Stadt - Canadian stage premiere!!!!!

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Gregory M Lang
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Die tote Stadt - Canadian stage premiere!!!!!

Post by Gregory M Lang » Tue Feb 16, 2016 1:10 pm

Die tote Stadt in Calgary – “not a review”

I thought that I would call my experience of the Canadian premiere of Die tote Stadt by the Calgary Opera, “not a review”, as per scott curry. Many of my own impressions, below, were already covered in a local newspaper review. I would note that this is the first time I have ever listened to the whole production – in addition to recordings, I have not seen live ones nor it on video.

It’s interesting that David Pomeroy, as Paul, had an Italianate delivery with his role. He had earlier played the recent role in the Frankfurt production. Now, interestingly, Calgary Opera’s description of opera, as performed by its company, has become more referential to aspects of Wagnerian music-drama over the years. Ironic that they had finally staged the Flying Dutchman; just recently a second time. Intriguingly – not to mention paradoxically – this old opera, still relatively unperformed in North America, has been classified as one of their “new productions”. Better, I think, to have un(der)performed and other productions (including new ones), than that old warhorse, La Bohème. Now, of course, that has long been a staple of opera houses worldwide; as has been the predominance of Italian opera. In that regard, I prefer Verdi over Puccini – though the latter did rave contemporaneously over Die tote Stadt.

The lead, supporting, and background singers – the latter in Calgary Opera’s own Emerging Artists program – were all drawn from Canadian talent. The performance itself was a resounding success – indeed, I would call it a triumph. Kathrin Korngold Hubbard, the composer’s granddaughter, was said by Calgary Opera to be “very happy” and “very pleased” with it. The production’s elements excelled individually; and they fortuitously came together as a whole. Most importantly, it made sense to the audience, who were not all seasoned opera devotees. As per above and below, this was due to Calgary opera’s efforts – and striking success with them – in making this production in such a manner.

Regarding Calgary Opera, it is only one of two such companies in Canada to have their own building – and they will move into their own in a couple of years. Their General Director & CEO, Bob McPhee, has been awarded the Order of Canada for his efforts as the culmination of his career; and he has been profiled in the Fall 2015 issue of Opera Canada magazine, upon the occasion of his winning one of their “Ruby” awards.

The sets had changing projections of Brussels on screens around the periphery of the stage, surrounding the central tableaux of Paul’s apartment, lending an appropriate as well as credible impression of the supernatural aspects of Die tote Stadt. I somehow got a personal impression of German expressionism, which would have been newly contemporaneous to Die tote Stadt, although I don’t know if this staging was deliberate. I found the second act somewhat confusing as presented here. If it was not part of Paul’s tortured dreams, then why was the carnival theatre troupe of Maria staged in very much the same way? But there have been two outstanding things about this production; based on Die tote Stadt, about which I have learned the essence of through these forums. First, Paul is not portrayed as a hopelessly deranged lunatic. Second, there were concerted efforts to present a cogent – and in fact coherent – production to the audience, notwithstanding the inherent nature of this particular opera. As well, neither of the first two acts were truncated, as with some other productions; neither were they combined (although the second is noticeably short). Further to these, Calgary Opera had staged this as a period piece; and had also taken pains to do research, including academically.

Bramwell Tovey, of the Vancouver (B.C.) Symphony Orchestra – who has also been awarded the Order of Canada – and has had previous experience with Korngold’s work, excelled in his conducting of this new production. With respect to the performance of the overall production of Die tote Stadt, David Pomeroy has commented on Calgary Opera’s Facebook page, that the role of Paul is very demanding with respect to the singing. This is in part due to the full orchestration. But Maestro Tovey appeared at first to be somewhat restrained in his use of this aspect, which the Calgary Philharmonic had used extra resources for. In fact, in the first act, each appeared be trying to project less volume than the other, with respect to singing and music. Not quite a “race to the bottom”; but by the final act, things had improved, in which that aria was reprised with more appropriate volume. A pity for the opera’s early-appearing signature piece, Glück das mir verblieb. Finally, Tovey did not truly pause for more than a brief moment as the applause for that aria began; hopefully, this was rectified with the following two performances.

All in all, a very satisfying evening. I might also add, a truly and eminently memorable one. Along the lines of the saying, wish you were there (if you weren’t). It was a production not to be missed for its quality and attention to the letter as much as the spirit of the piece. As well for the opera company’s superlative efforts in staging it. And of primary importance, in seeing this work of Korngold’s given justice in a production.
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