"The Dead City": a triumph for soprano Denoke


June 18, 2010 Updated Apr 9, 2009 at 12:10 AM EDT

German soprano Angela Denoke once again proved her talent for playing emotional female roles in Erich Wolfgang Korngold's "Die Tote Stadt", which had its last performance at the Vienna Opera this week.

The blond Denoke, who at 47 has reached her peak as a singer, was a resounding success in the tragic double role of Marie and Marietta in the opera by Korngold, a Viennese Jewish composer whose work was among the most popular in Austria and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.

Displaying a voice full of contrasts that hit the high notes with ease, she also brought her skills as an actress and as a dancer to the production by German stage director Willy Decker, who mixed romantic and modern elements, between dream and reality.

Named "Singer of the Year" by the German magazine Opernwelt in 1999, Denoke, who hails from the northern German town of Stade, has made a name for herself with her lyrical interpretations of major tragic roles: from Eva in Richard Wagner's "The Mastersingers of Nuernberg" and Lisa in Tchaikovsky's "The Queen of Spades" to the title role in Richard Strauss's "Salome".

Other key performances have included Kundry in "Parsifal", Elisabeth in "Tannhaueser" and Sieglinde in "The Valkyrie" -- all operas by Wagner -- as well as Tatjana in Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" and Chrysothemis in Strauss's "Elektra".

Denoke is no stranger to the Vienna Opera, having made her debut there in 1997 as the Marschallin (the Field Marshal's wife) in Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier".

She followed this up with her first appearance at the renowned Salzburg Festival where she performed in Alban Berg's "Wozzeck", Leos Janacek's "Katia Kabanova" and "Die Tote Stadt" (The Dead City).

In 2005, she then made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, again as Marschallin, before gracing the stages of the Paris Opera, London's Covent Garden and other major houses in Chicago, Barcelona, Berlin and Munich, under such maestros as Seiji Ozawa, Simon Rattle or Daniel Barenboim.

In "Die Tote Stadt", Denoke found a worthy partner in German tenor Klaus Florian Vogt, who performed the lead role of Paul to widespread acclaim.

Korngold's complex music was brought to life by French conductor Philippe Auguin, a former assistant of legendary maestro Herbert von Karajan, who weaved a performance full of nuances, combining delicacy and forcefulness.

When it was composed in 1920, "Die Tote Stadt" was deemed avant-garde, in part due to the complexity of the lead female character.

Born in 1897 in Brno, now the Czech Republic, Erich Wolfgang Korngold spent his earlier years in Vienna, until the arrival in power of the Nazis, who disliked his "degenerate music", led to his exile to the United States.

But he had already embarked on another brilliant career composing film scores, two of which would later earn Oscars, for the 1936 film "Anthony Adverse" and the 1938 Errol Flynn hit "The Adventure of Robin Hood".

A naturalised US citizen, he made a few trips back to Europe after the war but eventually died in 1957, aged 60, in his adopted country.

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