For some strange reason, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s 1920 hit The Dead City was not performed at Covent Garden in its heyday. But now that the composer - still best known for his Hollywood film scores - is enjoying a major revival, it has its belated UK stage debut.
And welcome it is, too. The score is an outstandingly accomplished example of late-Romanticism at its most gorgeous. Korngold’s technical skills are second to none and the Covent Garden players revel in the score in an incisive reading under conductor Ingo Metzmacher.
The story is strange but compelling. In the ancient city of Bruges, Paul is in perpetual mourning for his dead wife, Marie, until he meets and becomes fascinated by the young dancer Marietta, who is her double. Lively and emotionally promiscuous, Marietta taunts him for his obsession with a dead woman, until he strangles her with his dead wife’s hair. Then he wakes up. Only Marietta’s first visit to his home was real. Paul decides to leave Bruges and the memory of his former life behind.
Willy Decker’s staging, imaginatively designed by Wolfgang Gussman, emphasises the fantastic unreality of much of the action. Stephen Gould brings authentic Heldentenor power to the central role, with Nadja Michael committed as Marie/Marietta, even if her pitching has some dubious moments. It’s a worthwhile show and a work that lovers of Strauss and Puccini will fall in love with.