Longborough's Die Tote Stadt review

A STAR IS BORN AT LONGBOROUGH



DIE TOTE STADT
By Christopher Morley *****

What Longborough's cosy yet busy auditorium witnessed here was nothing less than the stuff of films, when a star is born.
Longborough Festival Opera was already in the headlines for presenting Erich Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, almost never experienced in this country, but on the second evening of this four-night run Rachel Nicholls, who had herself learned the taxing role of Marietta/Marie at very short notice, went down with a throat infection. Her understudy, Luci Briginshaw, sang from the side of the stage while Nicholls acted sublimely, their mutual lip-synching convincing us they were as one, and Briginshaw's body-language, despite being music stand-bound, totally immersed in the spirit of the action.
Her voice held up remarkably in this ordeal the inexperienced Korngold sets both his leading soprano and his tenor Paul. obsessively mourning his wife Marie whilst rejoicing in finding her doppelganger in the nightclub dancer Marietta (Korngold composed this during the oppressive headiness of Viennese psychoanalysis).
Peter Auty was more than heroic in this ridiculously taxing vocal writing (Wagner's Siegfried can't hold a candle to its cruelty). Not only did he survive the impossibly high heldentenor tessitura, he was also giving so much energy to his acting in the role. To get through this four times in alternate days qualifies for some kind of award.
The other, necessarily minor parts were all well taken, and Carmen Jakobi's direction over Nate Gibson's resourceful and versatile set, lit skilfully by Ben Ormerod, worked brilliantly.
Justin Brown conducted emphatically, and the continually remarkable Longborough Festival Orchestra obviously enjoyed this continually unfolding orchestral play.
But the opera itself? It presented no individual voice at all; the young Korngold was already immersed in Wagner (Walkure amongst other things), Richard Strauss (Rosenkavalier) the Verdi of La Traviata, and the Puccini of La Boheme (though I do give him credit for anticipating the Ping, Pang and Pong Commedia dell'Arte of Turandot), and the Lehar of The Merry Widow.
There is too much in this score, and no self-discipline. My ratings are for Longborough's excellent production, not at all for the music.
Christopher Morley

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