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Before he buckled his swash for keeps in Hollywood, writing film scores for the likes of Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, Erich Korngold wowed Europe as a child prodigy composer and the Next Big Thing in German

opera. His cheerily tilted opera Die Tote Stadt (Dead City)proved the pinnacle of his pre-Tinseltown oeuvre, awash in sighing melodies,

opulent orchestrations, and Weimar expressionism. The plot plays like a less malevolent Vertigo, with protagonist Paul doing a Pygmalion number on flighty

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actress Marietta—the spitting image of his late wife Marie—and winding up strangling her with the dead womanþ s preserved braids. Or does he? In a fine finish to its 20th anniversary season, Summer

Opera Theatre takes a stab at this seldom-done, post-Romantic gem. Conductor Mark Grafþ s skillfully reduced orchestra fits the

Hartke pit and sounds suitably lush. The sets by Gary Eckhert are handsome, if modest, but seriously lack atmosphere in Act 2þ s dreamscape. (Some clever

ideas from lighting designer Donald Edmund Thomas save the day here.) John Lehmeyerþ s direction is pretty clearheaded, though touches like the

flagellating cherubs in Act 3 seem like goofy miscalculations. If Karen Louise Hendricksþ (pictured left) Marietta/Marie lacks the fabled

glamour of the role’s creator, Maria Jeritza, she still makes an exuberant and seductive heroine, and Allan Glassmanþ s (pictured right) vibrant, tightly focused tenor sounds

just right for Paul—he taps into the shame and longing at the heart of this bourgeois schlemiel. At 8 p.m. Friday, July 17, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 19, at Catholic University’s Hartke Theatre, 620 Michigan Ave. NE. $30-50. (202) 319-4000. (Joe Banno)