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August 28, 2009

Reveling (or wallowing) in my favorite aria, "Marietta's Lied"

Not sure why I suddenly felt so compelled to revel -- OK, wallow -- in my favorite aria, "Gl├╝ck das mir verblieb" (popularly known as "Marietta's Lied") from Korngold's "Die tote Stadt," but the feeling came over me while working late at the paper on a story that has been tough going. (Various print projects have kept me from being a dutiful blogger lately. Please forgive.) Maybe I just needed the distraction, an escape, however brief. Maybe it's also, somehow, a reaction to Sen. Kennedy's passing; this music brings together so many feelings about life, love and, yes, death.

To me, "Marietta's Lied" is simply one of the most exquisitely crafted and deeply affecting five or six minutes ever composed by anyone. The opera itself will probably never be truly popular. The plot, with some little shades of "Vertigo" in it, is a bit thick, the score thicker. But I find the whole thing quite absorbing, and can easily overlook anything for the pleasure of the aria, which appears in the first act.

Here's a taste of the text: " 'Come to me, my true love. Night sinks into the grove. You are my light and day. Anxiously beats heart on heart. Hope itself soars heavenward.' A sad song, the song of true love that must die. I know the song. I heard it often in younger, better days. 'Though sorrow becomes dark, come to me, my true love. Death will not separate us. If you must leave me one day, believe there is a next life.' "

I never, ever tire of hearing the aria, and I love introducing it to people who haven't yet had the pleasure. So, if you don't know it, I hope these performances will hook you. If you're already a fan, I trust you'll enjoy spending time with the music again.

I couldn't choose just one version so I finally settled on four, starting with ...

today's most radiant soprano, Renee Fleming. How warm and effortlessly stylish her singing is here. Second, Anne Sophie von Otter's extraordinary account backed by a chamber ensemble; I was blown away when I found this (YouTube really is the greatest invention of the 21st century, isn't it?).

In the opera itself, "Marietta's Lied" blossoms into a duet, which can be wonderful if both the soprano and the tenor are up to the considerable challenges -- not, alas, all that frequent an occasion. I think you'll agree that Lottle Lehmann and Richard Tauber measure up superbly in the third clip, a blast from the past. Finally, my all-time champion of the aria, Beverly Sills, whose recording, at a wonderfully unhurried pace, finds her at a peak of tonal purity and expressive tenderness. To me, this performance casts the most powerful spell of all.

Posted by Tim Smith at 6:23 AM | | Comments (7)


I,too, fell in love with this piece the very first I ever heard it as a young teen being sung by none other than......Beverly Sills. Over the years, I have amassed numerous versions of it from Rosa Ponselle to Leontyne Price and beyond, and yet I always return to Sills. There is just a haunting beauty to her interpretation that I have never been able to quantify and no one else has yet matched for me.

Couldn't agree with you more. I think the conditions were somehow perfect the day Sills recorded that aria. She inhabited the music, and her performance gets me every time. Thanks very much for your comments. TIM

I also consider it one of the most beautiful arias ever written. I first heard it on an LP disc compilation, with Maria Nemeth singing this aria.
A number of years ago, the NY City Opera did Die Tote Stadt and I was looking forward to hearing the full opera. Alas, aside from this aria the rest of the music seemed somewhat banal. However, one great aria is more than most composers ever produce.

I remember that NYC Opera production, my first encounter with 'Die tote Stadt' onstage. It's definitely not an easy opera to love, but I think a great cast could make it work. The singing in New York just didn't do it for me. I've made it to one other production since then (Summer Opera Theater in DC), which turned out to be quite effective, but had its drawbacks, too. Still, I find myself sticking up for the piece, which seems to me to have the ingredients for a great night of music/theater. I hope to see/hear a truly, fully first-class production some day. TIM

I have been listening to a lot of Korngold lately, most recently to his score of the movie The Adventures of Robin Hood. I also listened to his violin concerto and frankly, I found it too sweet, the old cliche "more corn than gold" seems to be apt for me. But I love his symphony in F sharp, certainly one of the majro works of the 20th century; sadly, it is rarely done, I see that the NY Phil didi it only once with Previn. My favorite recording though is that of the Munich Philharmonic under Rudolf Kempe.

I _love_ Korngold -- his film scores are absolutely wonderful! (Oh, for the days when I discovered them -- those were great experiences, akin to jumping feet first into the mound of gold. ;^)

I must admit that while his violin concerto is obviously on the so-sweet-it's-tart side (lots of corn!!!), I was thrilled when the BSO performed it with Carney -- he was the perfect soloist for the piece.

Sometimes, we all need a little corn in our lives. And I have never found this guy's music to be as cloying as some folks do. Anyway, I sure agree with you that Carney had just the right touch for the concerto, a piece that keeps hanging on, despite the naysayers -- a lot of fiddlers, in each generation, seem unable to resist it. TIM

My favorite rendition of this beautiful aria is also the Sills/Rudel. The amazing thing is I heard her perform this aria live, at the same languid (gut busting) tempo, and it was as perfect live as it is on my old record (w/o the pops). It is a timeless performance that we can all cherish. CZ

I envy you for hearing her sing the aria live, and I'm delighted to learn that the performance matched the studio version. Thanks for writing. TIM

Thank you so much for the collection of these versions. "Marietta's Lied" has been kicking around in my head since I first heard it on Renee Fleming's compilation disc, and finally have gotten around to looking up its source. After hearing the Sills recording, I see I have another CD to buy!

Glad you liked my selection. There are a lot of fine versions of this aria; I think the music can't help but bring out the best in a singer. But Sills just hit an extra, magical height, vocally and interpretively. It's one of my favorite recordings, period. TIM

Like all of you, I adore Korngold's Marietta's Lied, but I'm afraid that none of the four performances listed here come close to that of Barbara Hendricks. You can find her rendition on YouTube. Her fabulously rich voice and perfect pacing are mesmerizing and absolutely matchless. In my opinion, she owns Marietta's Lied. It's almost as if Korngold wrote the piece for her.

Thanks for the recommendation. I'm a great admirer of Hendricks, but, somehow, missed the fact that she had recorded this aria. I'll definitely check it out. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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