• The score


    Opera in three Acts, opus 12.
    Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
    Libretto by Julius Korngold and Erich Wolfgang Korngold


    Paul, tenor: D2 - Bflat3
    Marie (Paul's dead wife)/Marietta (a dancer), soprano: B2 - C5
    Frank, Pau's friend, baritone: D2 - Fsharp3
    Brigitta, Paul's servant, mezzo: Aflat2 - A4
    Fritz, the Pierrot, baritone: C2 - Gflat3
    Juliette, dancer, soprano
    Lucienne, dancer,, mezzo
    Victorin, the stage director, tenor
    Count Albert, tenor
    Gaston, dancer, mime role


    1 Piccolo
    2 Flutes
    2 Oboes
    1 English horn
    2 Clarinets
    1 Bass clarinet
    2 Bassoons
    1 Double Bassoon
    4 Horns
    3 Trumpets
    1 Bass Trumpet
    3 Trombones
    1 Tuba
    1 Mandoline
    2 Harps
    1 Celesta
    1 Piano
    1 Organ
    1 Armonio
    4 Kettledrums
    7 Bells
    1 Glockenspiel
    1 Xylophone
    1 Triangle
    1 Tabor
    1 Rattle
    3 Bass drums
    1 Cymbal
    1 Wind Machine

    This is a very big orchestra. Though the vocal writing is cleverly arranged to avoid drowning the voices, singers need to have a good projection. Korngold also demand an immaculate classical technique to cope with the score frequent markings.

    Paul's role is very difficult to sing. There are fragments for a Hendeltenor, for a Wagner lyrical tenor, for a spinto, for a pure lyrical voice, even for a "tenore di grazia": two B3 with fermata and in piano. Also, the part is very long.

    Marietta is a nice role for a lyric or spinto (with good top notes) soprano, with some staging skills and in good shape for the second Act dance.

    Fritz is a short role, only fifteen minutes on stage, but is lucky because he will sing the splendid "Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen". A sensitive lyric baritone with easy top notes is fine. Franck is another baritone with some more weight in the low part of the tessiture, but often it's sung by the same singer.

    Brigitta, is a mezzo able to reach A4 and sing with the adequate sweetness.

    Perhaps the nicest soprano rendition of Marietta's lied, by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf:

    Is there a Korngold style?

    In my view, the answer is yes. In the 1920s the critics said Korngold's music was in the middle between Puccini and Strauss. And there is truth in that. Many people listening for the first time to pieces like Marietta's Lied or Paul's monologue in the second scene, are fascinated. They got immediacy, but at the same time there is a complex internal structure and new details can be discovered in every hearing.


    "20th century Bel-canto", was the reaction from Vienna critics to Die Tote Stadt. The melodic inspiration of Korngold is outstanding, he can suggest with just a few notes any emotion that the young composer would like to transmit. Like Strauss, he preferred long phrases, reaching soon a peak, but delaying the resolution and the climax.

    Clearly, in the two songs that take place in the fiction: Marietta's and Pierrot's lieder, melody is paramount. But we find all along the opera melodic details to stress a phrase, to complete the picture of a character,... Also, we can find the great talent of Korngold in the construction of the many motives that fill the score.


    A post-romantic harmony, of great formal complexity, but that reach in the best moments of Die Tote Stadt an aerial quality. Tonality is stretched to its limits, but never abandoned. The young Korngold, at twenty years old, was in perfect command of all the theoretical and practical nuances of the Western practice. Many of the chords in the opera are assonant, but as an expressive resource, not a structural choice.

    Korngold likes also to establish associations between roles or emotions and some tonalities. For instance, F-sharp major is used to represent Marietta's dancing, while the farthest tonality, F major, is the choice for the ghost of Marie's apparition. In Paul's mind, the antithesis between pure love and carnal desire.


    Korngold's orchestra is big, but in accordance with the standard practice of the period. Perhaps the massive presence of keyboards (piano, organ, harmonium, celesta,...) is the most original touch. The different timbre planes that are interacting and forming a complex fabric result in a very personal sound. The Korngold sound.

    The major influence in the orchestration are beyond doubt Schreker and Strauss's operas, and especially Die Frau ohne Schatten, premiered in 1919.

    This is another splendid version of Pierrot's lied:

    Mein Sehnen, mein Whänen - Carlo Drago Hrzic - 1928

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