An Introduction to The Dead City

A composer known for his dual disciplines of cinematic and classical compositions, Erich Korngold’s premier opera is Die tote Stadt, and we can’t wait for this emotional yet accessible work in our 2022/23 Season. If you love stories of romance and love lost, alongside wild hallucination sequences, you’ll be a fan of The Dead City.

Read up on Korngold’s finest work before our 2022/23 Season production.

With tickets starting from just £10, book yours now for The Dead City at the London Coliseum from 25 March – 8 April 2023.

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At just age 23, Korngold composed what would be commonly known as his strongest operatic work: Die tote Stadt, or The Dead City. Adapted from Georges Rodenbach’s 1892 novel Bruges-la-Morte, which was adapted by librettist Paul Schott. Or rather, it wasn’t – Paul Schott was a pseudonym!

The origin of this libretto begins with Korngold’s father, Julius. Julius was friends with Siegfried Trebitsch, a playwright and translator who had translated Rodenbach’s novel into German, and had discussed an adaptation of the work into the operatic form. Julius and Trebitsch proposed the project to Korngold, who was inspired. From there, Erich and Julius write the libretto together as father and son, under the assumed name of Paul Schott.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) whilst a notable composer of classical compositions, is known primarily as one of the most influential pioneers in Hollywood score-writing. A child prodigy, he wrote classical music (including the critically lauded The Dead City) and reached a peak of his career as a traditional composer – receiving praise from contemporaries and seniors Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss.

It was at this point, however, that the political climate of Europe began to devolve, with the onset of Nazism becoming a concern for Korngold, as he lived in Austria at the time. At the request of notable director of stage and screen Max Reinhardt, Korngold moved to Hollywood to compose for Reinhardt’s upcoming film adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Critically acclaimed, this marked a transition into a new stage of Korngold’s career as a composer for film.

Having composed 16 scores by the time of his premature death at aged 60 and receiving 2 Oscars for his work, Korngold became a hugely influential figure in the ’sound’ of Hollywood soundtracks for decades to come, and the roots of this can be found in The Dead City – remarkably ’cinematic’ in its score, the music is incredibly accessible to modern ears, perfect for those new to opera.

New to Opera

Paul, a widower, has still not moved on from the death of his wife Marie some years before and keeps a shrine in her honour in a locked room in his house. Delusional in his grief, he unexpectedly announced that his wife still lives and that the room can be unlocked. He tells his friend Frank that he witnessed a woman the day before that’s the spitting image of his deceased wife, and as such has invited her to his home.

She arrives and is revealed to be Marietta (subtlety is lost on Paul), a dancer who is in Bruges on tour with an opera company. Based on a short exchange before she leaves to rehearsal, during which time Paul tries to get Marietta to recreate a photo of his dead wife (a true romantic).

The rest of the opera mostly consists of a vision in Paul’s mind, in a potential ’tryst’ Paul has with Marietta. Given their first exchange and the nature of opera, it’s safe to assume this doesn’t go by our definition of a ’healthy relationship’. Emotionally charged, at times romantic, it explores how we can redefine relationships that have slipped from us in a truly devastating way. 

Read more about the story of this romantic opera here.

Following 2022’s critic hit The Handmaid’s Tale, The Dead City is the second production our artistic director Annilese Miskimmon has directed at the ENO. 

Promising to fulfil Miskimmon’s acclaimed directorial style, this 2023 production will find the romance at the heart of Korngold’s story, with a translation by Kelley Rourke and conducted by Kirill Karabits, beloved Ukrainian conductor. 

Book your tickets now for Korngold’s The Dead City, at the London Coliseum from 25 March – 8 April 2023.