Work of the Week - Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Die tote Stadt
On 30 June 2012, the Sydney Opera House will present the Australian premiere of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s popular opera, Die tote Stadt. The production by Bruce Beresford will be conducted by Christian Badea, with Australian soprano Cheryl Barker and the German heroic tenor Stefan Vinke. Notably, rather than occupying their normal place in the orchestra pit, the orchestra will perform from a studio and be broadcast live into the auditorium in surround sound.
The story for Die tote Stadt was adapted from Burges-la-Morte, a novel by George Rodenbachs, by Korngold and his father under the pseudonym Paul Schott. Rodenbach’s complex romantic drama revolves around Paul, a young man distraught by the death of his wife, and a woman he falls in love with, Marietta. In Paul’s eyes, Marietta gradually takes on an ever closer resemblance to his deceased wife Marie against the morbid background of Bruges and the figures of the two women merge fatally with each other.
Set in three acts, Die tote Stadt is said to be one of the last romantic operas, with melodic lines and musical themes reminiscent of Strauss and Puccini. Its world premiere took place in Hamburg in 1920 when Korngold was only 23, and quickly thereafter he became one of the youngest composers to boast international acclaim. In the following year, a critic wrote:
Since the beginning of theatre music, there has never been a composer to accomplish so much at such a young age. A youthful storm approaches...
Having been banned during the Second World War along with the rest of the Jewish composer’s work, Die tote Stadt was largely forgotten until the 1980’s when regular performances began taking place again all over the world.
Following its Australian premiere, the opera will be performed in Sydney six more times in July and August 2012, and later in Lübeck, Germany on 5 April 2013.