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Korngold – Die tote Stadt

Willy Decker – Director

Ingo Metzmacher – Conductor

Wolfgang Gussmann – Designs

Wolfgang Gobbel – Lighting


Paul – Stephen Gould

Marie/Marietta – Nadja Michael

Frans/Fritz – Gerald Finley

Brigitta – Kathleen Wilkinson


Royal Opera House, 30 January 2009


In later years Korngold proved himself to be a master of the cinema score, and the signs are already well in place in this opera with its sweeping melodies and lush orchestration.  Under the baton of Ingo Metzmacher the orchestra of the ROH, overflowing into boxes at three levels, took to it like a duck to water pouring waves of rich emotional sound into every corner of the house. 


By contrast, Willy Decker’s staging, which was first aired at the 2004 Salzburg Festival, takes a more dispassionate approach – his characters appear mentally fragile; their hallucinatory moments are very chill nightmares.


Paul, is a man obsessed with his dead wife, surrounding himself with her portraits and preserving a long plait of her hair.    Suddenly he is confronted by a woman who is her near-double and the encounter sparks of a series of incidents part real, part fantasy.   The role makes immense vocal demands on the singer, not least in terms of stamina.  At this, the second performance in the run, Stephen Gould showed some signs of fatigue, although he sensibly conserved his full strength for the moments where it would most count.


As the double heroine, Nadja Michael demonstrated that she is an actress of considerable skill.  She moves with the grace of a dancer with limbs that seem completely elastic.  Her voice is another matter, having recently moved from mezzo to soprano, raw edges and a lack of flexibility were in evidence.


Only the ever dependable Gerald Finley (Frank/Fritz) produced the command and silkiness of tone to match the music, demonstrated to the full in the Pierrot’s song, which was probably the high spot of the evening.


Wolfgang Gussmann’s designs were very effective, and some gorgeously melting cinematic effects in Wolfgang Gobbel’s lighting.  London audiences have waited ninety years to see a staging of this opera.  It may not have proved itself a masterpiece, but it has sufficient merit to earn itself a repeat showing within a shorter period.


Serena Fenwick

Stephen Gould (Paul), Nadja Michael (Marie) (photo: Bill Cooper)