Roughly Speaking podcast: Halloween special: Best of horror movie music (episode 168)

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, "Glück 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'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.

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