Ruth Leon recommends…Death in Venice – Benjamin Britten – ENO

Ruth Leon recommends…Death in Venice – Benjamin Britten – ENO

Ruth Leon recommends

norman lebrecht

January 07, 2022

Death in Venice – Benjamin Britten – ENO
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In Britten’s luminous and compelling interpretation of Thomas Mann’s classic novella, the ageing writer Gustav von Aschenbach’s infatuation with the Polish boy Tadzio and his subsequent decline are portrayed in a harrowingly believable performance by John Graham-Hall, who had already won golden opinions for singing the role of Aschenbach at La Scala.

Deborah Warner’s beautiful and evocative production of Britten’s final operatic masterpiece was described at its premiere in 2013 by The Independent as an “exquisitely achieved marriage of music, drama and design”. The conductor of the ENO chorus and orchestra is Edward Gardner, a long-standing champion of Britten’s music.

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  • John Borstlap says:

    I could not find Britten’s Death in Venice very convincing: the incredibly thin sound of the music, the absence of continuity, the entirely unmotivated gamelan tinkling, the pathetic whining of the tenor which is very difficult to identify with (how many audience members can identify with falling in love with a boy?). And then, the subject does not lend itself to operatic treatment, there is no action. So, such subjects can only survive in the theatre if the music creates a compelling inner drama on which the ‘narrative’ floats. But what we get is sketchy impressions of something outside the subject, as it were, like recollections of something forgotten.

    Operas without drama are extremely rare, they don’t hold the interest for a whole evening. The only one that comes to mind is Wagner’s Parsifal, which has ‘some’ drama in the 2nd act, be it minimal, the rest of the plot is flat and chatty. But the work is saved by the music which paints a broad canvas of interiority, in spite of the longeurs. Even Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande has more drama. Britten’s earlier operas are so much stronger.

  • Anonymous Bosch says:

    Did I miss an anniversary or something?

    We are getting two new productions of “Death in Venice”: Neue Oper Wien (in English) and Volksoper (auf Deutsch) + two revivals of “Peter Grimes” (Theater an der Wien and Staatsoper) + the Symphoniker did the War Requiem a few weeks ago. Personally, I can’t get enough! I’d love to see Neue Oper Wien revive it’s stunning “Owen Wingrave”…

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    I went to see/hear it at the S.F. Opera in the 1980s. I like Britten’s music so much that I truly enjoyed “Death in Venice”. I liked the gamelan bits during the dances. Eschenbach’s nightmare dialog between himself and a solo tuba was right up my alley. It’s certainly not what most people think of, when they think of grand opera. The catty ushers at the house referred to it as “Death on Van Ness”. Van Ness is the street that the S.F. Opera House and Davies Symphony Hall rest upon.

  • Jim Spriggs says:

    Britten’s last opera is a sublime masterpiece which only grows in stature with repeated listenings.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Crashing bore to be honest!