Il Trittico at LA Opera
Die Tote Stadt at SF Opera

Die Tote Stadt Panel Discussion

Die-tote-stadt Yesterday evening Kip Cranna moderated a panel discussion on Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, which has a San Francisco premiere tonight. The panelists included baritone Lucas Meachem (Fritz, Frank), the revival director Meisje Hummel, and conductor Donald Runnicles. The discussion was one of the more informative, and it is too bad San Francisco Opera neglected to put the talk on their monthly calendar. As such, the audience had an even higher percentage of donors than usual, perhaps because as the talk was listed on the membership cards.

The panelists were asked how they each became involved in this co-production of the Vienna State Opera and the 2004 Salzburg Festival. Meachem is debuting his two roles in the opera this evening, but is engaged to sing in Die Tote Stadt again at Teatro Real in 2010. Ms. Hummel was the assistant to Willy Decker, the original director, and worked on the production at the Salzburg Festspiele, the Wiener Staatsoper, the Nederlandse Opera, and the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Runnicles conducted the work in Salzburg and Vienna, but had not known it previously, with the exceptions of "Mein sehnen, mein wähnen" and "Glück das mir verblieb."

Runnicles did get into the history of this opera, explaining that Korngold was the son of Julius Korngold, a vicious music critic who also happened to be an arch-conservative. It was Korngold's father that wrote the libretto, based on Georges Rodenbach's novella Bruges-la-Morte. The fiendishly difficult music is certainly late Romantic, influenced by Mahler and Strauss, both of whom agreed that Korngold was a genius. Strangely enough, the opera debuted simultaneously in Hamburg and Cologne, so great was the demand for this world premiere.

The production itself sounds vaguely Regie, despite all of the promises for no Eurotrash. Both Meachem and Runnicles adore it, saying it is both emotional and cerebral. Meachem mentioned it was his favorite except for the Pique Dame we had a few years ago, and I immediately thought of the oversized skeleton in that production and how much I had to stifle my laughter. Runnicles believes this production is in the top five of the ones he's been involved with for the last 20 years, and that the playing is better with this orchestra compared to Salzburg and Vienna. In any case, this is the only opera besides Idomeneo that I've been truly looking forward to, despite my disdain of Late Romanticism.