Opera en abyme: The Prodigious Ritual of Korngold's Die Tote Stadt

Cambridge Opera Journal 22:2 (2011), 115–46

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This essay frames Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Die tote Stadt (1920) as a mise-en-abyme narrative containing four nested realms of diegesis: (1) the opera’s "real" world, (2) a prolonged dream sequence, (3) a dance troupe’s rehearsal of an opera within that dream, and (4) an expressly requested baritone song performed by a "Pierrot" character in the midst of that dreamt rehearsal. I conceptualise the opera’s dense meta-theatrics as a reflexive celebration (and also a didactic warning against the escapist pleasures) of sung spectacle. Excerpts from my interviews with Inga Levant—director of the 2001 Strasbourg production of Die tote Stadt—are used to supplement my broader examination of the ways in which Korngold’s reputation as a "problemless" and "apolitical" child prodigy has impacted critical, dramaturgical and hermeneutical orientations towards this opera since its earliest post-war performances.