Tote Stadt, Die (The Dead City)
  • Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Opera in three acts. 1920.
  • Libretto by the composer and his father, Julius Korngold (under the pseudonym Paul Schott), after the novel Bruges la morte (Bruges the Dead) by Georges Rodenbach.
  • First performance in Hamburg and Cologne on 4th December 1920.
CHARACTERS
Paul tenor
Marietta, a dancer & The Apparition of Paul's late wife, Marie soprano
Frank, Paul's friend baritone
Brigitta, Paul's housekeeper mezzo-soprano
Fritz, the Pierrot baritone
Juliette, a dancer soprano
Lucienne, a dancer soprano
Gaston, a dancer dancer
Gaston's Voice (off-stage) tenor
Victorin, a stage director tenor
Graf Albert tenor

In Bruges Paul keeps a room as a shrine to his dead wife Marie. Her portrait hangs on the wall and a lock of her hair is kept in a casket. Frank visits him and learns how he has met a woman who resembles Marie, to the life. Marietta, a dancer, comes to the house, dances and sings, resembling, as she realises, the portrait now revealed on the wall of the room. Paul is fascinated by her and when she has gone imagines that he sees Marie herself, stepping from the portrait and telling him to go out and live. The second act finds Paul waiting outside Mariettas Lied house by night. His housekeeper, in disapproval, has entered a convent and Frank has also succumbed to the fascination of Marietta. She and her companions come from the theatre, laughing and drinking, observed by Paul. Marietta acts the resurrection scene from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, to the amusement of her friends and the horror of Paul, who rails at her. She exercises her power over him, insisting that they go to his house. The next morning Paul finds her in Marie's room, while outside a procession passes. Marietta mocks Paul's devotion to Marie and his piety, provoking him until he murders her. Paul wakes up, to find that what had happened was a dream. He resolves, with Frank, to leave Bruges, a city of death, where there is no resurrection.

Korngold's opera won wide success after its first simultaneous performances in Hamburg and Cologne. The work is richly orchestrated, with music often of great intensity. The treatment of the symbolist novel of Rodenbach is characteristic in many ways of the literary and dramatic preoccupations of the period. It attracted the attention of a number of important singers in the two principal rôles of Paul and Marietta-Marie. Well known excerpts include the Mariettalied, Marietta's song of sadness, Glück, das mir verblieb (Joy, that I had) and Fritz's melancholy Pierrotlied, in the night dream-sequence by Marietta's house. The latter was also arranged as a violin solo by Fritz Kreisler, testimony to its wide contemporary popularity.