The First Five Sentences


No opera has music more gorgeous – more brilliantly colored, more lusciously textured, more passionately yearning – than Die tote Stadt.

No opera. Has music! More gorgeous.

So why is it so rarely performed?

Good question, being that it’s the most best opera ever, ever. In fact, if Die tote Stadt was a planet, it would be the only planet in its own solar system--that's how more good it is. Its inhabitants wouldn't need to evolve any further, because they already attained genetic perfection. This makes them herbivores, since predation is futile. Also, they laugh at aliens--especially illegal ones.

Well, the title, "The Dead City," may be a little off-putting.

Personally, the title “Salome” is a little more off-putting. There’s something about necrophilia that doesn’t sit well with me.

Anyway. To each his own.

And Erich Wolfgang Korngold's youthful masterpiece needs two lead singers, a soprano and a tenor, who can sing – and sing and sing...

Don’t all operas require singers who are trained to do this?

...and sing and sing – over high-cholesterol orchestrations that make Wagner sound like Mozart.


The soprano also has to be visually plausible as a dancer.

...as opposed to olfactorally plausible.


[Edit Empiricus] I almost forgot the "necrophilia" tag.


Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, now, I think you are being unfair. "No opera has music more gorgeous..." means only that Die tote Stadt is the EQUAL of other gorgeous operas, not that it is the best or most beautiful. And having heard the damn thing, the two leads are killers, right up there with the toughest Strauss and Wagner roles. Yes, believe it or not, some roles are a lot harder than others, because of length or tessitura or the orchestra the singers have to cope with.

Empiricus said...

Point taken. I was a rash in my exaggeration of "more." I was just trying to highlight the Salome thing, and, via the "uh...," the "high-cholesterol orchestrations." (Maybe he meant to switch Wagner and Mozart. It makes little sense to me.)

On the other hand, if it's so good, I don't think there would be as many impediments to its performance as Scott points out. I would think (and it's just a guess, because I'm no opera producer)--I would think that Wagner operas would be a royal pain to produce, especially regularly, which they are. Their impracticality is no impediment for their production. (And this can be viewed as a testament to their quality, too.)

Still, you're right. I read it wrong. But come on, "predation is futile" on planet Die tote Stadt? That's good stuff!


Lisa Hirsch said...

The killer roles are part of the impediment. Others include: lack of familiarity, the conservatism of audiences, opera managers who are unwilling to take chances, disdain for Korngold (misplaced, in my view).

It's not so easy for an opera to move into the repertory. We're hearing lots of Janacek now largely through the efforts of Charles Mackerras, who edited the operas and championed them outside Bohemia. Okay, you could hear an occasional Jenufa outside Czechoslovakia even before the 70s, but still. At the Met there was a gap of 45 years or so between its appearance in the 1920s, as a Jeritza vehicle and its revival in the 1970s.

The other composer who has entered the operatic rep in the last 40 years is Handel, and I think that was part of a worldwide revival of interest in his operatic music and baroque opera in general.

Korngold and composers such as Schreker and Zemlinsky have a shot at entering the rep in the next 20 years, owing to people like James Conlon (and Donald Runnicles) and productions such as this tote Stadt, which has been shown in, what, Vienna, Salzburg, Holland, and SF now. There are other Korngold operas - Die Catherin, Das Wunder der Heiliane and, uh, Violanta, I think. I'd love to hear them.

Strini said...

"Over high-cholesterol orchestrations that make Wagner sound like Mozart" is like saying "Kate Smith was so fat she made Ella Fitzgerald look like Lena Horne." (Not that I'd ever say anything like that.) I get what S.C., is saying. It makes sense to me. And I like the phrase "high-cholesterol orchestrations. I might steal that.
And now, apropos of nothing, something that is fun to look at:

AnthonyS said...

Hah. Just sent that link to my students. Hilarious.

Strini delivers!

Empiricus said...

When was that written? 'Cause I've got proof that I wrote a piece for beer bottles back in '99, only they were full and the players had to drink them in order to change the pitches.

And, don't get me wrong folks, I thought "high-cholesterol orchestration" was pretty cool. Props to SC. It's just the context makes it sound like a watered-down orchestration--Wagner sounding like Mozart. But then again...

Keep up the good work!

Sator Arepo said...


That video was fun to look at.