BRITTEN: War Requiem
KORNGOLD: Die Tote Stadt
Benjamin Britten's powerful War Requiem has not lacked superb recordings. We have the historic 1963 London/Decca recording made shortly after the premiere with the composer conducting, and many later versions including those by conductors John Eliot Gardiner, Carlo Maria Giulini, Richard Hickox, Kurt Masur, Sir Simon Rattle, and Erich Leinsdorf, the latter a video of the 1963 Boston premiere (REVIEW). On SACD we have the Richard Hickox LSO recording (REVIEW), and the recent one with Jaap van Zweden from Holland (REVIEW). The premiere of War Requiem took place May 30, 1962 in the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral with Meredith Davies and the composer conducting the City of Birmingham Symphony, chorus, the Melos Ensemble and soloists Heather Harper (who stepped in a few days before the performance when Galina Vishnevskaya was not permitted to leave Russia—also she was in time for the recording), Peter Pears and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Now we have this new video recorded May 30, 2012 marking the 50th Anniversary of the premiere. It was a highly emotional event in every way. All performers were magnificent, and young conductor Andris Nelsons leads with total control. At the soft, almost inaudible conclusion of the work there is total silence for at least two minutes (as at the premiere a half-century earlier), a moving episode indeed. Video and audio are state-of-the-art. Even if you own other recordings of Britten's masterpiece, you should investigate this issue.
This Nabucco is another in the ambitious Teatro Regio Di Parma Verdi series, and it is a great success. Sets and costumes by Luigi Perego are simple but colorful, and Danielel Abbado's staging is to the point. Leo Nucci has sung the title role countless times, and has a previous DVD from a 2001 Vienna State Opera production by Günter Krämer who decided to update it to the 20th century with minimal scenery and much symbolism. Fortunately, we don't have to deal with that on this new version, which finds all of the principals in fine vocal state. Nucci is a commanding presence indeed, and his buxom feuding daughters, Abigaille and Fenena, sung by Dimitri Theodossiou and Anna Martia Chiuri, impress in these very challenging roles. Tenor Bruno Ribeiro gets better as the opera progresses, and visually is excellent. The important role of Zaccaria is magnificently sung by Riccardo Zanellato, at the beginning of what should be an extraordinary career. Conductor Michele Mariotti keeps things moving very nicely, and the important chorus also is first-rate. Video and audio are excellent. This Nabucco is highly recommended!
Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die Tote Stadt ("The Dead City") had premieres simultaneously (December 4, 1920) in both Hamburg and Cologne. The 23-year old composer was the rage of Vienna, acclaimed by leading musicians of the time including Gustav Mahler and Bruno Walter. The premieres were a huge success and the opera was performed but after World War II it was seldom performed, Over the years, Die Tote Stadt, has enjoyed a number of successful revivals, and in 1957 RCA made a recording conducted by Erich Leinsdorf with Carol Neblett as Marie/Marietta and René Kollo as Paul, produced by Korngold expert Charles Gerhardt assisted by the the composer's son, George. This superb new video gives us the opportunity to view a TV production by Götz Friedrich for Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1983. Sets are darkly appropriate, costumes colorful. The opera is about Paul who is living in the past, obsessively reliving his happiness with his wife, Marie,who died. He now lives by himself in a dark mansion in Bruges. Belgium, where he lived with Marie. He still keeps a strand of her hair as a reminder of their life together. One day he sees Marietta, a dancer, who resembles his late wife; he invites her to his home and falls in love with her. From that point on, the opera is a dream sequence in which Paul kills both Marietta and his good friend Frank. In the final scene, Paul realizes, all was but a dream and he resigns himself once again to solitude. In this production there are a few small cuts so that performance time would be just two hours, and, for an unknown reason, Götz has made the ending a bit more pessimistic. The opera can be a showcase for both principal singers and it surely is here. Karen Armstrong, married to producer Friedrich, has a voice that easily can soar in Korngold's beautiful music, and dramatically she could not be bettered. A beautiful woman, she throws herself into the double roles (Marie/Marietta) completely, dances well, and in one scene even does a cartwheel. She is matched by James King, sterling vocally—how unfortunate a tenor of his quality isn't heard in the RCA recording! . He also vividly portrays the tortured Paul. This is a very demanding role, and King is in top form. William Murray also is excellent in the double role of Frank/Fritz, although his "Pierrot's Lied" in Act II doesn't match veteran Hermann Prey in the Leinsdorf recording in which Benjamin Luxon sang Frank. Herinrich Hollreiser's conducting cannot be faulted.
If you want to experience Die Tote Stadt this new issue surely is the one to get—and I would not want to be without the RCA recording, although currently it is unavailable.
R.E.B. (December 2012)