Wednesday, 14 January 2009
A nice YouTube link: the aria Glück das mir verblieb (My happiness that remained) from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's 1920 opera Die tote Stadt (The Dead City). Korngold was a prolific composer of film and romantic music, but I think this aria is his masterpiece.
The book connection is that the opera is based on a little known 1892 short French novel, Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach. Its central character is a widower, Hugues Viane, who chooses the Flemish city of Bruges as an ideal place to indulge in a fest of mourning and nostalgia for his dead wife; however, he becomes obsessed with a young woman, Jane Scott, who is his wife's double, setting her up as his mistress, but ultimately strangling her when she comes to his house and touches the lock of his wife's hair he has kept as a relic. The novel (actually novella-length) was groundbreaking firstly in its powerfully melancholy evocation of Bruges - see Bruges of sighs - and secondly in its use of photography: see Bruges-la-Morte at feuilleton for an example; or check out the full novel at the Internet Archive (ID brugeslamorterom00rode).
Korngold's operatic adaptation is mildly more upbeat; as explained in the Korngold Society's synopsis, the murder becomes a hallucination, and the protagonist's friend encourages him to do the wise thing and leave Bruges. If the plot is moderately familiar, it's because Hitchcock's Vertigo was very likely based on it. Bruges-la-morte is available on Gutenberg (Etext No. 14911) but only in the original French; a recent translation, Bruges-la-morte (Dedalus European Classics, 2005, ISBN-10: 1903517230) follows the lead of the original in having accompanying photography.
Following the spreading ripples of influence: Bruges-la-morte is generally viewed as having influenced WG Sebald, whose works I confess to not knowing. However, I must check him out having found, while Googling, the blog Vertigo: Collecting & Reading W.G. Sebald ("On literature and book collecting, with an emphasis on W.G. Sebald and novels with embedded photographs"). It offers some intriguing connections: for instance, Memories as Scars: La Jetée, reveals a thematic thread connecting Sebald's works and the 1962 short film La Jetée (see YouTube / translated version) which is highly recognisable as the prototype of The Twelve Monkeys.
P.S. The Wikipedia entry mentions that La Jetée was first released alongside Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville. Talking of prototypes, check out the video of Kelly Osbourne's One Word, which is visually a remarkable pastiche of Alphaville (compare One Word and the Alphaville trailer).
P.P.S. Joe - thanks - kindly let us know in the comments of the 1915 film adaptation of Bruges-la-Morte - Grezy (Daydreams) by Yevgenii Bauer, made using the empty streets as Moscow as stand-in for Bruges.
Update, January 27th 2015
I've just written a little more on the topic, including finding a link to an out-of-copyright English translation, and uploading the set of photos from the 1892 edition. See Bruges-la-Morte photos.