Date of Graduation
Master of Music (MM)
Second Committee Member
Portrayals of women in art have always been a sensitive subject due to the unequal distribution of power between the sexes within the Western patriarchal society and, more recently, due to newly acquired criticism of artistic misogyny. The operas of Erich Wolfgang Korngold showcase varying interpretations of female characters that waver between misogynist objectification and disparagement and ardent endorsement of feminine prominence. This thesis discusses three of Korngold’s operas (Violanta, Die tote Stadt, and Das Wunder der Heliane) and examines them through the lens of the tumultuous and ever-changing political and social landscape of women’s issues in Vienna in the early twentieth century. The first chapter discusses Violanta in connection to the nebulous concept of femme fatale. Whereas the femme fatale characteristics are mainly prominent in the libretto, Korngold’s music mostly subverts them. I show that Alfonso, the opera’s main villain and a classic Don Juan character, is far more prominent in the music of the opera than the eponymous heroine. As a result, Violanta projects a special type of the traditional, patriarchal, and misogynist plot so often found in the operatic world of nineteenth-century opera—one in which the femme is subverted before she even has a chance to become fatale. The second chapter discusses Die tote Stadt and further shows how Korngold exploits the archetype of femme fatale. The opera’s main character, Marietta, displays many of the same traits as Violanta. Musically, Marietta exudes far more prominence than Violanta as can be evidenced in her entrance music, her main aria, and in a serenade to her. While Marietta is ultimately murdered, she still exemplifies strong and independent qualities that Violanta does not. The third chapter discusses Das Wunder der Heliane and Korngold’s abandonment of the femme fatale archetype. Heliane has a much stronger ethical character than the previous heroines, and her beauty and virtue are constantly amplified within the music. Heliane may also reflect the commonly held beliefs of many women of the feminist movement as well as the budding Nazi party: that women should abstain from sexual promiscuity and be emblazoned with a strong moral compass.
Dow, Brandon Larry, "Korngold's Leading Ladies: A Comparative Study of Female Characters in the Operas of Erich Wolfgang Korngold from 1915 to 1927" (2016). Theses and Dissertations. 1612.