|Die tote Stadt | Opera Australia|
|Written by Helen Machalias|
|Tuesday, 03 July 2012 21:28|
Left – Cheryl Barker with perfoming artists of Opera Australia. Cover – Cheryl Barker and Stefan Vinke. Photos – Lisa Tomasetti
Award winning Australian film director Bruce Beresford's Australian premiere of Die tote Stadt follows on from last year's acclaimed production Of Mice and Men and marks another stunning collaboration with Opera Australia. Best known for classic films such as Don's Party, Breaker Morant and Driving Miss Daisy, Beresford is also gaining a reputation as an adept and sensitive director of opera.
Described by Beresford as a study in 'obsession, fantasy and delusion', Die tote Stadt ('The Dead City') is an adaptation of the 1892 Symbolist novella by Georges Rodenbach, Bruges-la-Morte, which is set in the Belgian city prior to the outbreak of the first world war.
A grief-stricken widower, Paul (Stefan Binke), has made a shrine to his late wife Marie (Cheryl Barker) through a collection of intimate mementos: her lute, photographs and a braid of her hair. Despite this, he becomes obsessed with Mariette (also played by Cheryl Baker), a beautiful dancer who bears a striking resemblance to his dead wife. Paul's close friend Frank (Michael Honeyman) returns to the city after a long absence and is concerned by Paul's infatuation, and attempts to dissuade Paul from pursuing Mariette. Paul and Frank become estranged, with Paul convinced that Frank is also enamored of Mariette. At an Opera company party, Mariette seduces Paul, who is nevertheless scandalised by her sexual and blasphemous behaviour. Mariette and Paul begin living together, but Paul becomes overcome with guilt for betraying the memory of his dead wife. In turn, Mariette feels insulted that he continues to worship Marie's memory and taunts him by dancing with a braid of Marie's hair, with catastrophic consequences.
The difficulties of staging operas at the Sydney Opera House due to space restrictions and poor acoustics have been well publicised, and this production is groundbreaking in its solution. Audiences for this production will see an empty orchestra pit, as the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra (conducted by Christian Badea) will be performing from the Studio, with the sound traveling to the Opera Theatre's audience using state of the art cinematic surround sound. It's a gamble that pays off, with the music that is piped into the Opera Theatre of a very high quality, though some will miss the immediacy and drama of having the orchestra before them.
There is a familiar quality to Korngold's melodic piece, as he was one of Hollywood's first film composers, creating the scores for 1930s films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (1939) and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Often compared to Puccini and Richard Strauss, his operatic and orchestral work has enjoyed a revival in recent years (particularly in German speaking countries) after decades of neglect.
International star soprano Cheryl Barker (familiar to Australian audiences as Mimi in Baz Luhrmann's 1990 production of La boheme) brings confidence and technical ability to her dual roles as the coquettish and vacuous Mariette and the pensive ghost of Marie, her voice easily soaring above the orchestral score. The role of Paul is a challenging one musically, and Stefan Vinke (making his debut in Australia) appeared ill at ease for much of the production, before giving a passionate interpretation of the opera's most famous aria, Marietta's Lied towards the end of the evening. The under appreciated baritone Jose Carbo is a standout as Fritz, and his soulful performance of Tanzlied des Pierrot is the musical highlight of the evening.
The opera's title refers to the city of Bruges as well as the depressed wasteland of Paul's mind, and the scenic image projections effectively convey the mournful and sinister aspects of the world the main character inhabits and 'open up' what could otherwise be an oppressive opera. Die Tote Stadt is a beautifully designed production with a strong emotional pull, and fans of both Beresford's film and stage work will not come away disappointed.
Performed in German with English surtitles. Die tote Stadt will be playing at the Sydney Opera House until 18 July.
Opera Australia presents
Die Tote Stadt
Director Bruce Beresford
Venue: Opera Theatre | Sydney Opera House
Dates: 30 June – 18 July, 2012
Tickets: $297.00 – $53.00
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