04 Dec 2006

KORNGOLD: Die Tote Stadt

Die Tote Stadt, an opera in three acts.

Music composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957). Libretto by Paul Schott (Julius and E. W. Korngold) after the novel Bruges la morte by Georges Rodenbach.

First Performance: 4 December 1920 at Hamburg and Köln.

Principal Characters:
Ghost of Marie, his deceased wifeSoprano
Marietta, a dancerSoprano
Frank, Paul's friendBaritone
Brigitte, Paul's housekeeperMezzo-Soprano
Fritz an actorBaritone
Juliette, a dancerSoprano
Lucienne, a dancerSoprano
Gaston, a dancerTenor
Victorin, the directorTenor
Count AlbertTenor


Act I

Since his wife's death, Paul has saved a braid of her hair, her scarf and her lute as mementos. She lives only in his memory. Paul's housekeeper, Brigitta, declares that his friend, Frank, has returned to Brügge after a long absence. He tells Paul that has met a young woman who closely resembles the dead Marie. Frank warns him to let the dead rest in peace, but Paul dreams of her return. He has Brigitta procure red roses.

The young lady, Marietta, arrives. She is a dancer on tour. Paul gives her the roses and then gives her Marie’s scarf and lute. Marietta sings a song that Marie always sang. Marietta uncovers Marie’s portrait and notes the striking similarity with her. She must leave to attend a rehearsal of Meyerbeer’s Robert le Diable, in which she plays Hélène. She urges him to join her at the theater; but, he stays behind. The apparition of Marie appears from the portrait and transforms into the dancing figure of Marietta.

Act II

Paul and Frank meet outside Marietta’s house. Brigitta has left Paul’s service. Frank has the key to Marietta’s apartment. Paul wrestles the key from him. Marietta’s troupe arrives. They begin to rehearse the resurrection scene from Robert le Diable, with Marietta as the risen Hélène. Paul interrupts, humiliating Marietta. Nevertheless, Marietta wishes to win over Paul. She goes with him to his house. There she will battle with the ghost of Marie.


The next morning, Marietta stands before Marie’s portrait, triumphant. She challenges the dead woman. Paul’s conscience is in turmoil, which only increases as a holy procession passes by the window. Marietta mocks Paul because of his piety. She takes the braid of hair. Paul snatches it away from her and strangles Marietta with Marie's hair. Now dead, Marietta resembles Marie completely.

Paul awakens. Brigitta reports that Marietta has forgotten her roses and umbrella. After Marietta leaves, Frank invites Paul to accompany him on a trip to get away from the city of the death. Paul, who determines that a reunion with the dead is not possible in this life, follows him.

Click here for the complete libretto