• George Rodenbach

    Portrait of George Rodenbach, by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer

    Hugues, a young man destroyed by the death of his wife, thinks he has met her again seeing an unknown woman passing in the street, with an amazing resemblance to the deceased. Unfortunately, the copy is far from the original, can't replace his obsession for his wife, and the young man ended up strangling her with a lock from the hair of her dead love.

    Belgian writer Georges Rodenbach, born in 1855, based his fame in this brief story, published as Bruges-la-Morte, in 1892. The novella was considered as symbolist, then the last trend in France.

    Some objects like that hair lock, a kind of erotic relic treasured by the loving husband, are part of those symbols that underpin the story. But the most important reference is of course Bruges itself, the old city with the canals, the mists, the medieval architecture precariously coexisting with the impulse from the Industrial Revolution.... "A place as beautiful as dead, their citizens strolled Bruges without realizing they are just living in an strange and big cemetery", relates a visitor at the end of the 19th century.

    Rodenbach's original interest was Poetry. According to him, his novels are just 'verses in prose'. This is his evocation of Bruges, in French:

    Chose curieuse : on ne voit jamais tant de vieilles femmes que dans les vieilles villes. Elles cheminent - déjà de la couleur de la terre - âgées et se taisant, comme si elles avaient dépensé toutes leurs paroles...

    Bruges is another character in the novella, the image of death ('toute cité est un état d´âme'), that owns the soul of Hugues, reproaching his infidelity to his dead wife, to his love, to the city itself.

    A few years before his death, Rodenbach wrote a small play based on his novella, under the title of "Le Mirage", that was premiered after his death, in 1900, with the same main roles: Hugues, his wife Geneviéve, his servant Barbe and Jane Scott, the dancer resembling Geneviéve, but adding Joris, a friend of Hugues that allows to express in dialogues the inner monologues of the protagonist. It's this play, and not the novella, the material from which the Korngolds will draw the libretto of the opera.

    We can read (in French) Bruges-la-Morte:


    Another version of the duo, this time with Richard Tauber and Lotte Lehmann:

    Glück, das mir verblieb, // Joy, that near to me remains,
    rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb. // Come to me, my true love.
    Abend sinkt im Hag // Night sinks into the grove
    bist mir Licht und Tag. // You are my light and day.
    Bange pochet Herz an Herz // Anxiously beats heart on heart
    Hoffnung schwingt sich himmelwärts. // Hope itself soars heavenward.

    Wie wahr, ein traurig Lied. // How true, a sad song.
    Das Lied vom treuen Lieb, // The song of true love,
    das sterben muss. // that must die.

    Ich kenne das Lied. // I know the song.
    Ich hört es oft in jungen, // I heard it often in younger,
    in schöneren Tagen. // in better days.
    Es hat noch eine Strophe-- // It has yet another verse--
    weiß ich sie noch? // Do I know it still?

    Naht auch Sorge trüb, // Though sorrow becomes dark,
    rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb. // Come to me, my true love.
    Neig dein blaß Gesicht // Lean (to me) your pale face
    Sterben trennt uns nicht. // Death will not separate us.
    Mußt du einmal von mir gehn, // If you must leave me one day,
    glaub, es gibt ein Auferstehn. // Believe, there is an afterlife.

    (Translation by Lisa Lockhart)

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