I recently attended Die Tote Stadt (The Dead City), an opera by Korngold. Don’t judge. I have been to the opera only twice in my life.
I sat next to a middle aged woman. She was perhaps in her early to mid fifties, beautiful. This woman was there by herself, which seemed odd as there was no empty seat beside her. The lead soprano’s agent, as it turned out (he was quite the talker and fairly well known by most everyone who was anyone…not me and not her) was sitting on the other side of her and did not know her. She was wearing black, which at the opera is not that odd but her shoes were unexpected… very worn compared to the rest of her. It was as if she was left at the last minute with the realization that she needed black shoes but did not have anything suitable to wear and no time to make a purchase. Her cell phone screen had a picture of her with an older gentleman in an embrace, clearly as lovers. She fidgeted between apps without any real purpose.
During “Marietta’s Lied”, an aria sung by a dying lover, this woman began to cry softly, wiping tears from her eyes with a tissue that she pulled from her clutch.
I have put a YouTube link here so you can hear this exquisite piece (close your eyes and let it wash over you):
A translation of this aria is given below. Maybe it was just her allergies giving her fits. But maybe this woman beside me had lost her lover to death. Maybe this opera was something they both loved and now it possessed new meaning.
The story line has a man who lives each day as a shrine to his dead wife. He falls in love with a woman that looks like his wife but who has slept with dozens of men, including his friend. She seduces him, he falls for her, and they make love only to realize that the other is not what they had hoped for. He strangles her then wakes to find that it was a dream, that he needs to get on with his life instead of living only for his dead wife’s memory.
As the woman cried, I wondered what I should do. Put my arm around her? Give her a pat? Should I ask her about it at intermission?
In the end, I said nothing. I let her have her moment of private mourning. I was terribly curious and it eats at me still. If the roles had been reversed I don’t know if I would want to leave the spell untouched by words or if I would want the opportunity to share the story and my love with a stranger.
The beauty of this music will forever haunt me now on a completely new level as I live in my own “temple of memories”.
English translation of “Marietta’s Lied”:
Joy, that near to me remains,
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.
How true, a sad song.
The song of true love,
that must die.
I know the song.
I heard it often in younger, in better days.
It has yet another verse–
Do I know it still?
Though sorrow becomes dark,
Come to me, my true love.
Lean (to me) your pale face
Death will not separate us.
If you must leave me one day,
Believe, there is an afterlife.
(Translation by Lisa Lockhart, listed at the Aria Database. http://www.aria-database.com/search.php?individualAria=844 )