REVIEW: Die Tote Stadt | Opera Theatre, Sydney
Let’s face it, with a name like Die Tote Stadt, it doesn’t sound like a happy musical.
A man needs a wife. Well, that’s debatable. But Paul does. He just can’t get over the loss of his wife Marie. Until Mariette comes along that is. Mariette bares an eery likeness to Marie (hardly surprising in this case, with both roles fulfilled by Cheryl Barker). But is Mariette the secret, the key to unlocking Paul’s salvation?
That’s where the tension lies in this opera, by Erich Korngold, probably best-known as a Hollywood film composer, but who had another life before that. The Dead City is the masterwork many of us have never heard, or even heard of, which makes it all the more exciting to hear its soaring, wonderful score. Soaring, but not overly sentimental, even if the narrative is wedded to nostalgia. It’s dramatic, much of the time, and very challenging work for the principals, who often have to rise over the full force of the orchestra.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. And, sometimes, weaker, if one’s spirit ascends (if you should subscribe to such lofty philosophy) with the deceased, never to return to earth. As a widow, or widower, one is prone to forget one’s partner’s fondness for blowing bubbles in the bath; or eating mashed potato, mouth open. The lost one is glorified.
As a focal point for John Stoddart’s design, a portrait of Marie glows, angelically, from on high. She looks almost Madonna-like (the original one), milky-white and holding a lute, as angels are prone to do. Even the floor and walls of this veritable crypt are painted almost midnight blue, punctured by diffuse yellow stars; an aesthetic redolent of Vincent’s most famous painting. The stair which descends into the room is almost like the crossing from the mundane to the sublime. The ceiling is high. This is a set that has been thought through. A small box, looking like a Madurodam cottage, becomes a tiny coffin when red roses are strewn around it. Stefan Vinke is Paul, a man who’s erected a shrine, emotionally and actually, to Marie, his late wife. He’s stuck. Bigtime. He is so sentimental as to hold a plait of her hair. It’s in that tiny coffin. Here’s a man that hasn’t come to terms with the seven stages of grief.
Not for the first time, Bruce Beresford directs. A definite first, though, as far as I know, is to take the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra out of the pit and lead them, by a trail of crotchets and quavers one presumes, down to The Studio, with their live performance ‘beamed up’ to the Opera Theatre, but before being mixed into cinematic surround sound. Mmm. Yes, sounds like a gimmick. And it is. At particular points, it was discernible and had some value, offering the kind of separation and perspective one might seek from a decent hi-fi, if it’s permissible and not too old school to refer to home sound systems as such. But the whole idea is a bit arseabout. I mean, as a hi-fi enthusiast, I was steeped in the notion that the whole point of reproduced sound is just that: to reproduce, as faithfully as possible, live sound. So to have live sound emulating something more contrived is a little out of kilter in principle.
Nonetheless, Tony David Cray has done a (dare I say) sound job in resisting multiphonic mania, instead calibrating the placement so that when it was in play it actually had some value. For example, hearing the choir, in the street in Bruges, approaching from the right-rear was, indeed, cinematic and really put us right there at home with Paul.
Page 1 of 3 | Next page
You must be logged in to post a comment.