Strangling blondes: nineteenth-century femininity and Korngold's Die tote Stadt

Winters, Ben (2012). Strangling blondes: nineteenth-century femininity and Korngold's Die tote Stadt. Cambridge Opera Journal, 23(1-2) pp. 51–82.



Responses to Korngold's 1920 opera Die tote Stadt have long been filtered through the lens of his later Hollywood career. To do so, however, not only risks misunderstanding the relationship between these two different spheres of the composer's output, but also ignores the opera's complex positioning within the gender discourses of early twentieth-century Vienna. This article offers a corrective to the clichéd view of Korngold the ‘pre-filmic’ opera composer by arguing that, in its treatment of the characters Marie and Marietta, Die tote Stadt draws on a tradition of ‘strangling blonde’ imagery from the nineteenth century in order to critique the gender theories of Otto Weininger (1880–1903), which were still current in the 1920s. As such, in its concern with the nature of femininity, Die tote Stadt also draws our attention to the modern woman who had just entered the composer's life, Luise (Luzi) von Sonnenthal.

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