Die Tote Stadt – Opera Australia
Groundbreaking tech will make this a truly 21st-century opera.
It doesn’t get much posher than opera. It also doesn’t get much odder. Erich Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt premiered in Sydney on Saturday June 30, nearly a century after its German premier in 1920. It was well received in Germany back then and it had Sydney’s black tie audience yelling bravo aplenty on Saturday. The opera was banned in Germany when the National Socialists came to power, because of Korngold’s Jewish heritage, not because it was subversive or ‘entartete Kunst’. It’s a straightforward story about grief-stricken Paul (Stefan Vinke) who seeks comfort from his wife’s death in a phantasmagoria of lust and betrayal with Mariette (Cheryl Barker) who resembles his dead wife.
Sometimes when Australia takes a long time to premiere a work, people get up in arms about our parochialism and backwardness, as Alison Croggon did in regards to The Histrionic taking so long to come here. In the case of Die Tote Stadt, we should celebrate the fact that we have eschewed it for so long. For 92 years we resisted this opera's gaudy banality, but finally in 2012, for reasons that remain hermetically sealed in an office somewhere at Opera Australia, we have succumbed.
Opera is not the subtlest of theatrical forms, and this one is no exception. The three-act story is told from start to finish with the kind of bombastic enthusiasm that may have you reaching for a few stiff drinks at both intervals. Korngold’s music itself is not known for its sensitivity, and its treatment by conductor Christian Badea and director Bruce Beresford in this production does nothing to counteract that. John Stoddart’s set design only inflames the situation by leading us into a dreamscape of airbrushed night sky accompanied by projections of falling roses and fuzzy dead people. It is the definition of kitsch: garishness without a shred of irony or self-awareness. This opera is truly an experience. Forget the Jet Boat in the harbor, leave the Spit to Manly walk behind - don your velvet gown, grab the opera glasses and get yourself to the closest thing Sydney has to Disneyland, Die Tote Stadt.