Die tote Stadt tells the story of Paul, a young man torn between fidelity to the memory of his deceased wife and a growing attraction to her living look-alike. Paul enters a series of increasingly disturbing and violent visions, and the plot takes on the subtleties of a psychological thriller.


"The Dead City"

Opera in 3 acts
Sung in German
About 2 hours + intervals

Bruges, Belgium End of 19th century

Act 1

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 honour, including paintings, photographs and a lock of her hair. When his friend Frank pays him a visit at his house and urges him to honour Marie by moving on with his life, Paul flies into a rage 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 she is Marie) and invited her back to his home.

Soon the woman, Marietta, a young and beautiful dancer, appears for her rendezvous with Paul. They talk, she is put off by his odd behaviour, but persists in trying to interest him with her charms—she sings (Lute Song, "Glück das mir verblieb") and dances seductively, but eventually gets bored and leaves. Paul meanwhile is driven into 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 move on with his life.

Act 2

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 Paul's resistance and leading him offstage locked in a passionate embrace. All this takes place in Paul's imagination.

Act 3

Paul's vision continues. Back in his house, living with Marietta, he quarrels with her. She gets fed up with his quirks and 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 at the house when she departed a few minutes ago. With the shock of the traumatic dream still fresh in his mind, Paul is met by his friends Brigitta and Frank who note that though Paul's vision is there, his desire is dead. Frank begins to leave and asks if Paul will leave, to which he replies, "I will try". The opera ends with a reprise of "Glück, das mir verblieb" sung by Paul in what is apparently his last time in his "Temple of Memories".


Paul/Gaston/Victorin/Albert – Tenor (Helden/dramatic)

A man whose wife Marie has died

Marie/Marietta – Soprano (spinto)

A dancer and the apparition of Paul’s late wife, Marie

Juliette – Soprano

A dancer

Brigitta/Lucienne – Mezzo-soprano

Paul’s housekeeper/A dancer

Frank/Fritz – Baritone (lyric)

Paul's friend/Pierrot in Marietta's troupe


Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Place of birth: Brünn, Austria-Hungary (present-day Brno, Czech Republic)
Place of death: Los Angeles, United States

composer erich wolfgang korngold


Erich Wolfgang Korngold was an Austrian-born composer and conductor. A child prodigy, he became one of the most important and influential composers in Hollywood history. He was a noted pianist and composer of classical music, along with music for Hollywood films, and the first composer of international stature to write Hollywood scores.

When he was 11, his ballet Der Schneemann (The Snowman), became a sensation in Vienna, followed by his Second Piano Sonata which he wrote at age 13, played throughout Europe by Artur Schnabel. His one-act operas Violanta and Der Ring des Polykrates were premiered in Munich in 1916, conducted by Bruno Walter. At 23, his opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) premiered in Hamburg and Cologne. In 1921 he conducted the Hamburg Opera. During the 1920s he re-orchestrated, re-arranged and nearly re-composed, for the theater, operettas by Johann Strauss II. By 1931 he was a professor of music at Vienna State Academy.

At the request of director Max Reinhardt, and due to the rise of the Nazi regime, Korngold moved to the U.S. in 1934 to write music scores for films. His first was Reinhardt's A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935), which was well received by critics. He subsequently wrote scores for such films as Captain Blood (1935), which helped boost the career of its starring newcomer, Errol Flynn. His score for Anthony Adverse (1936) won an Oscar, and was followed two years later with another Oscar for The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

Overall, he wrote the score for 16 Hollywood films, receiving two more nominations. Along with Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, he is one of the founders of film music. Although his late classical Romantic compositions were no longer as popular when he died in 1957, his music underwent a resurgence of interest in the 1970s beginning with the release of the RCA Red Seal album The Sea Hawk: the Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1972). This album was hugely popular and ignited interest in other film music of his (and other composers like Steiner) and in his concert music, which often incorporated popular themes from his film scores (an example being the Violin Concerto in D, Op. 35).


“When that day comes, composers will accept the motion picture as a musical form equal to the opera or the symphony.”


Korngold was a child prodigy. He became one of the most important composers in Hollywood history.

Most prominent operas

Die tote Stadt 1920


Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Julius Korngold

The libretto was written by the composer and his father Julius Korngold under the collective speudonym Paul Schott. It is based on the novel Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach.




3d3, 2+1, 2+1, 2+1 - 4, 3+1, 3, 1
timp, perc, 2 harps, celesta, piano, harmonium, mandolin, strings


stage: organ, 2 trumpets, 2 clarinets, glock, wind machine, 2 trombones, percussion


A double premiere was arranged for Korngold's opera Die tote Stadt. It premiered at the Hamburg State Opera and the Cologne opera on the 4th of December 1920. Cologne Opera



Act 1

Aria - Glück, das mir verblieb "Marietta's Lied" (Marietta)

Act 2

Aria - Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen (Fritz)