Music on CD
KORNGOLD: Die tote Stadt Royal Swedish Opera and Chorus / Leif Segerstam Naxos 8 660060-1; two CDs
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Friday 15 August 1997
Organ and Notre Dame-style bells overwhelm the sensational Act 2 prelude, while the orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera is not, it has to be said, of the very front rank. But Korngold's opulence will out and, as a way in to this remarkably ripe and exotic confection at a super-bargain price, you could do a whole lot worse. The all-Swedish principals are modestly heroic. Thomas Sunnegardh sounds a little like a young James King and, despite the dryish timbre and a few too many inelegant phrases (it's a bit of a bray at times - especially as he grows tired towards the close), he conveys an often inspiring ardour. Katarina Dalayman (Marietta and Marie - the living and the dead - and she has enough voice for both) is no Karita Mattila (now there's someone who should sing the role) but she assumes the vocal ascendancy - Marietta's fabulous "Lute Song", for instance - in some style.
One quibble. What possible use is a German-only libretto to the uninitiated? If Naxos are banking on a future for their "Opera Classics" series, this is one corner they cannot cut. I'd still pay a little extra for the one other recording of the piece, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf and more classily sung (on BMG), but you have to applaud Naxos for their enterprise. And, of course, Korngold for his. With "Pierrot's Song" in Act 2 (and what a peach of a number that is), it's as if he is momentarily caught between the nostalgia of operetta and the aspirations of opera. And who's to say where he'll go next. Edward Seckerson
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