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The Dead City (Die Tote Stadt)
German: Die tote Stadt (The Dead City), Op. 12 is a three-act opera composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold to a libretto by Paul Schott (a pseudonym for both the composer and his father, Julius Korngold). It was inspired by Georges Rodenbach's novel Bruges-la-Morte, published in 1892.
Paul's wife Marie died years back, but he still hasn't pulled through it. He keeps a shrine of her reserved in a room of his house. In his grief, he started to believe that his wife was still alive and that the room could be opened. He tells his friend Frank that he saw a woman who looked just like his late wife the day before. Because of this, he has invited the woman to his house.
She shows up, and Paul doesn't get the hint that her name is Marietta. Marietta, the dancer, is currently performing in Bruges with an opera group. Based on a short conversation between Paul and Marietta before she goes to rehearsal, Paul tries to get Marietta to copy a picture of his late wife (a true romantic).
The rest of the opera is mainly Paul's thoughts about a possible "tryst" he might have with Marietta. Given what they said to each other in their first conversation and how opera works, it's safe to say that this is not what we would call a "healthy relationship." It's emotional and sometimes romantic and looks at how we can start over with relationships that have hurt us deeply.
History of Performance
When Die tote Stadt was first performed on December 4, 1920, Korngold was only 23 years old and had already written two short one-act operas, Der Ring des Polykrates and Violanta. Because of how well these earlier works did, there was a lot of competition among German theaters to be the first to put on Die tote Stadt.
Opera premieres in both Hamburg's Stadttheater and Cologne's Cologne State Opera were arranged, making it a highly unique double debut (Glockengasse). Otto Klemperer led the orchestra in Cologne, and his wife Johanna Geisler sang Marietta. In Hamburg, Korngold was at the theater, and Egon Pollak was in charge of the music. The opera's theme of getting over the death of a loved one struck a chord with audiences in the 1920s who had just been through the trauma and grief of World War I. This made the work even more popular.