Die tote Stadt

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Die tote Stadt (German for The Dead City) is an opera in three acts by Erich Wolfgang Korngold to a libretto by Paul Schott, a collective pseudonym for the composer and his father, Julius Korngold; it is based on the 1903 translation by Friedrich von Oppeln-Bronikowski of the 1892 novel Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach.

Performance history[edit]

Libretto cover published in 1921

When Die tote Stadt had its premiere on December 4, 1920, Korngold was just 23 years old with two short one-act operas, Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta, already to his name. The success of these earlier works was so great that Die tote Stadt was subject to a fierce competition among German theatres for the right to the world premiere. In the end, an unusual double premiere was arranged and the opera opened simultaneously at the Stadttheater Hamburg and Cologne. In Cologne, the conductor was Otto Klemperer, and his wife Johanna Geisler (de) sang Marietta. In Hamburg, Korngold himself was in the theatre, and the conductor was Egon Pollak. The opera's theme of overcoming the loss of a loved one resonated with contemporary audiences of the 1920s who had just come through the trauma and grief of World War I, and this undoubtedly fueled the work's popularity.

Die tote Stadt was one of the greatest hits of the 1920s. Within two years of its premiere it had circled the globe, including several performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

But the work was banned by the Nazi régime because of Korngold's Jewish ancestry and after World War II it fell into obscurity. The key postwar revivals of the piece were at the Vienna Volksoper (1967) and the New York City Opera (1975). In recent years, however, the work has enjoyed notable revivals, among others at the Theater Bonn, the Royal Opera House, the San Francisco Opera and at the Vienna State Opera.[1][2]

The French premiere of the opera took place in a concert performance in 1982 at the Paris Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. The first French staged performance was in April 2001 in Strasbourg under the baton of Jan Latham-Koenig with Torsten Kerl (Paul) and Angela Denoke (Marietta).

The opera received its UK premiere on 14 January 1996 in a concert performance by the Kensington Symphony Orchestra conducted by Russell Keable at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with Ian Caley (Paul) and Christine Teare (Marie/Marietta). The first UK staged performance was on 27 January 2009 at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

In Australia, the work was first premiered by Opera Australia on 30 June 2012 at the Sydney Opera House, with Cheryl Barker as Marie/Marietta, and Stefan Vinke as Paul.

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere cast in Hamburg,
4 December 1920,
(Conductor: Egon Pollak)
Premiere cast in Cologne,
4 December 1920,
(Conductor: Otto Klemperer)
Paul/Gaston/Victorin/Albert tenor Richard Schubert Karl Schröder
Marie/Marietta soprano Annie Münchow Joanna Klemperer
Hariette/Juliette soprano Maria Jeritza Joanna Klemperer
Brigitta/Lucienne mezzo-soprano Maria Olszewska Katherina Rohr
Frank-Fritz baritone Josef Degler Karl Renner
Chorus: party goers

Synopsis[edit]

Place: Bruges, Belgium
Time: End of 19th century

Act 1[edit]

When the opera opens, Paul, a younger middle-class man whose young wife, Marie, has recently died, cannot come to terms with the sad reality of her death. He keeps a “Temple of Memories” in her honor, including paintings, photographs and a lock of her hair. When his friend Frank pays him a visit at his house and urges him to honor Marie by moving on with his life, Paul flies into a rant, and insists that Marie “still lives.” He tells Frank that he has met a woman on the streets of Bruges who exactly resembles Marie (indeed, Paul thinks that it is Marie) and invited her back to his home.

Maria Jeritza and Orville Harrold in rehearsal for the Metropolitan Opera premiere of Die tote Stadt in 1921

Soon, the woman, Marietta, a young and beautiful dancer, appears for her rendezvous with Paul. They talk, she is put off by his odd behavior, but persists in trying to interest him in her charms—she sings and dances seductively, but eventually gets bored and leaves. Paul meanwhile is driven to a state of extreme anxiety.

Torn between his loyalty to Marie and his interest in Marietta he collapses into a chair and begins to hallucinate. He sees Marie's ghost step out of her portrait and urge him not to forget her, but then the vision of Marie changes and tells Paul to go and move on with his life.

Act 2[edit]

After a series of visions in which his pursuit of Marietta alienates him from all his remaining friends, the act ends with Marietta finally overcoming his resistance and leading him offstage locked in a passionate embrace. All this takes place in Paul's imagination.

Act 3[edit]

Paul's vision continues. Back in his house, living with Marietta, he quarrels with her. She gets fed up with his quirks and continuing obsession with Marie and starts to taunt him by dancing seductively while stroking his dead wife's hair. In a rage, Paul grabs the lock of hair and strangles Marietta. Holding her dead body he exclaims “Now she is exactly like Marie.” Then he snaps out of his dream. Astonished that Marietta's body is nowhere to be found, he has barely had time to collect his thoughts when his maid informs him that Marietta has come back to pick up her umbrella which she left in the house when she departed a few minutes ago. With the shock of the traumatic dream still fresh in his mind, Paul finally resolves to leave Bruges, let his dead wife rest in peace, and continue his life. In a touching conclusion, with his friend Frank at his side, he vows to start his life anew and slowly leaves behind his house and his “Temple of Memories,” for the last time.

Recordings[edit]

In other media[edit]

(These films used "Glück das mir verblieb")

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ List of recent and planned performances of Die tote Stadt at Operabase
  2. ^ Performances of Die tote Stadt found at G. Casaglia almanac; retrieved 6 January 2009
  3. ^ Die tote Stadt, Opera Today site with synopsis and MP3 recording (there it is said to be a live performance, but no trace of auditorium noise or applause can be heard)

Cited sources

  • Palmer, Christopher, "Erich Wolfgang Korngold", Die tote Stadt, Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Opera) (Accessed May 4, 2007) (subscription required)

External links[edit]