woodsprites and chaplinesque clowns, for help, her bandaged foot is unwrapped during the spell and she is miraculously healed. She dances for the Prince, who is suitably smitten and carries her off to his own theatre. In Act 2, an auditorium can be seen through a doorway and a swanky wedding party takes place, ambushed by Karita Mattila as a vampish Foreign Princess.
Loy’s concept works well and the stylish production values make this one of the most successful Rusalkas on film, right up there with Martin Ku≈ej’s harrowing, Josef Fritzl-inspired staging for the Bavarian State Opera, which featured Kristı¯ne Opolais’s harrowing portrayal of a survivor of abuse.
Central to the success of Loy’s production is Asmik Grigorian’s outstanding, passionate Rusalka. Her soprano has just the right amount of steel to ride Dvo∑ák’s orchestration; her Song to the Moon is poignant, the big Act 3 aria searing in intensity. But watch her! Grigorian is a superb actress and this is an absolute masterclass. Her reactions when others are singing are so nuanced and heartfelt, moved to tears by Vodník in Act 2. She lives every moment. On top of this, she was coached to dance en pointe, turning out elegant bourrées.
Eric Cutler sings a terrific Prince. It’s a taxing role but his tenor has the right balance of strength and sweetness to carry him through. He also has the additional challenge of performing on crutches, having sustained an Achilles injury late in rehearsals which had to be incorporated into the staging. Karita Mattila is in fine voice, relishing her predatory Princess and her posse of buffed male escorts. Maxim KuzminKaravaev looks young to be singing the careworn Vodník but his warm, lyrical bass is attractive and his scenes with Grigorian are wonderfully tender. Katarina Dalayman is a fearsome JeΩibaba and I liked young baritone Sebastià Peris as the hunter, here a clown who holds a candle for Rusalka. The trio of lively woodsprites are well blended, Rachel Kelly impressing with her silky mezzo along with Julietta Aleksanyan and Alyona Abramova. Ivor Bolton conducts a supple account of Dvo∑ák’s luscious score. Highly recommended. Mark Pullinger Selected comparison: Hanus (A/11) (CMAJ) ◊ 706408; Y 706504
Die tote Stadt Jonas Kaufmann ten �Paul
Marlis Petersen sop �Marietta/Marie Andrzej Filończyk bar �Frank/Fritz Jennifer Johnston mez �Brigitta Mirjam Mesak sop �Juliette Corinna Scheurle mez �Lucienne Manuel Günther ten �Gaston/Victorin Dean Power ten �Count Albert Choruses of the Bavarian State Opera; Bavarian State Orchestra / Kirill Petrenko Stage director Simon Stone Video director Myriam Hoyer BSO Recordings F b ◊ BSOREC1001; F Y BSOREC2001 (143’ • NTSC • 16:9 • 1080i • DTS5.1, DTS MA5.1 & PCM stereo • 0 • s) Recorded live, December 2019
As Simon Stone’s production of Die tote Stadt opens, Brigitta and Frank are peering through the windows of Paul’s house in Bruges. A very cold, very modern-looking house it is, too: one of those boxy low-rise apartments that you see on outlying housing estates while travelling into a major European city. But as Paul returns and pulls dustsheets from his furniture, we begin to glimpse the outlines of his former life. Arthouse cinema posters, retro-chic furniture – evidence of a taste for things past that had presumably been a shared pleasure with his dead wife but which has spiralled, in her absence and his loneliness, into a troubling but wholly understandable obsession.
In short, while Stone’s updated setting might upset purists, there’s a depth and emotional intelligence to this staging that disarmed my initial resistance, and which, by the time it reached the apparition scene at the end Act 1, had me (and this almost never happens outside the theatre) in tears. Marie appears as Paul last saw her, clearly in the final stages of cancer; an idea that makes absolute sense of his veneration of her hairpiece after her death, and draws singing and acting of almost unbearable tenderness and poignancy from both Jonas Kaufmann and Marlis Petersen.
Set against moments like that, the visual absence of the still waters and tolling bells that shimmer and resound through Korngold’s score ceases to register – though there’s nothing in Ralph Myers’s designs to suggest that this isn’t the ‘dead city’ of Bruges, just not the picture-postcard bit. It’s a strikingly realistic updating, faithful to the spirit and (mostly) the letter of the score. The one major departure comes in
Act 3’s religious procession: a vision of singing schoolchildren and Magritte-like figures in bowler hats. But then, this is part of a dream sequence (signalled by a David Lynch-like flickering of the lights), and it’s true to what we’ve seen of Paul’s imaginative world. The way that Stone, Myers and the lighting designer Roland Edrich blur hallucination and reality throughout Act 2 is highly effective, and video director Myriam Hoyer steps lightly around the revolving set design, which colleagues who were present tell me was a distracting element in the theatre.
The central performances, meanwhile, are magnificent, with Kaufmann giving a detailed, believably frayed portrayal of a man struggling to hold on to his dignity as his life unravels. The textured darkness of his lower register conveys pain just as convincingly as his high notes soar. Petersen’s performance is, if anything, even more compelling. She’s a multi-layered Marietta, with countless vocal inflections and small gestures revealing an underlying tenderness and sympathy even at her most facetious, before transforming voice and persona into a radiant, ravaged vision of Marie in that brief but devastating Act 1 apparition. In Act 3’s climactic duet she unleashes a vocal ardour that all but overtops Kaufmann – which, given that this is one of the finest performances I’ve seen from him, live or on disc, is saying something. Their ‘Glück, das mir verblieb’ is one for the ages, as Kaufmann goes to pieces and Petersen quietly reaches for his hand.
The other roles are just as persuasive. Jennifer Johnston’s Brigitta, in particular, is warmly compassionate and Andrzej Filon´czyk (as Fritz) sings his Act 2 waltz song with style and a hint of irony, his face painted like Heath Ledger’s Joker (the cheerful chaos of the players’ digs is vividly evoked – the posters on their walls are for Hollywood movies, whereas Paul prefers Antonioni and Godard). Petrenko, in the pit, has an absolute command of texture and tension. His Bavarian orchestra can deliver lushness without limits, but Petrenko knows precisely when to probe and when to let Korngold’s tuned percussion show its teeth. He finds unsuspected shadows and subtleties in the lower reaches of the score, making unarguable sense of the paradox (still mind-boggling after a century) that a 23-year-old composer could create one of opera’s most affecting studies of grief, and do so in music of such life-affirming inspiration
38 GRAMOPHONE 38 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2022