DEATH IN VENICE
libretto by Myfanwy Piper music by Benjamin Britten
London Coliseum St. Martin’s Lane WC2N 4ES In rep to 26 June 2013.
24, 26 June 7.30pm.
Runs 2hr 45min One interval.
TICKETS: 0871 911 0200.
Review: Carole Woddis 21 June.
Limpid beauty and purity in opera of corruption.
“My mind beats on,” sings Gustav von Aschenbach at the beginning of Benjamin Britten’s opera based on the Thomas Mann novella, “but no words come.” Unlike Luchino Visconti’s famous film, where Aschenbach was transformed into a composer, it is words that are tying this Aschenbach – and Mann’s original creation – in knots.
Death in Venice was Britten’s last opera, an artist looking back perhaps on his own life and a final encounter with a preoccupying theme: the corruption of youth and innocence but also failing powers and disintegration, physical and moral. For anyone acquainted with Britten’s other works, Death in Venice was also a musical departure, more atonal and with eastern influences of gamelan and gong.
Peter Pears was, of course, the first Aschenbach interpreter in Snape, replaced in English National Opera’s 2007 production by Ian Bostridge as the writer who becomes obsessed with Tadzio, a young Polish boy at the Venice Lido, seeing in him both muse and destroyer, an emblem of Dionysian chaos in opposition to the strict Apollonian control that has dominated his creative life.
This ENO revival brings a new interpreter, John Graham-Hall. Tall, increasingly bowed and clutching his linen jacket ever-tighter as passion, inner conflict and the cholera sweeping through Venetian waters take their toll, it’s hard to imagine a more purely sung or impressive interpreter.
Graham-Hall oozes vocal command and authority, yet collapsing spirit in a role of often monotone intensity and demanding emotional shifts. Around him Deborah Warner creates a production of limpid beauty, a Venice of shimmering waters, silhouetted horizons and mysterious gondoliers evoked by the simplest means, gorgeously lit by Jean Kalman and handsomely costumed in high-Edwardian style by Chloe Obolensky.
Britten and librettist Myfanwy Piper turned Mann’s Tadzio into a sporting hero (unlike his creator who conceived him as beautiful but fragile). Here he’s danced with some aplomb by young Sam Zaldivar as a symbol of athleticism and knowing adolescence.
Without the immediate dramatic grandeur of a Peter Grimes or Billy Budd, this is still a work of awe and wonder and a revival, under Edward Gardner’s conducting, to treasure.
Gustav von Aschenbach: John Graham-Hall.
The Elderly Fop/The Old Gondolier/The Hotel Manager: Andrew Shore
The Hotel Barber/The Leader of the Players/The Voice of Dionysus/The Voice of Apollo: Tim Mead.
The Polish Mother: Laura Caldow.
Tadzio: Sam Zaldivar.
Her two daughters: Mia Angelina Mather, Xhuliana Shehu.
Their governess: Joyce Henderson.
Jaschiu: Marcio Teixeira.
Hotel Porter: Peter Van Hulle.
Strawberry-seller: Anna Dennis.
Guide: Charles Johnston.
Strolling players: Anna Dennis, Adrian Dwyer.
English clerk: Marcus Farnsworth.
Glass-maker: Richard Edgar-Wilson.
Lace-seller: Constance Novis.
Beggar woman: Madeleine Shaw.
Restaurant waiter: Jonathan McGovern.
Lido boatman/Priest in St Mark’s: Paul Napier-Burrows.
Hotel waiter: David Newman.
Newspaper-seller: Lyn Cook.
Gondoliers: Philip Daggett, Paul Napier-Burrows, Anton Rich.
Ship’s steward: Gary Coward.
Hotel guests from many countries: Allan Adams, Deborah Davison, Natalie Herman, Suzanne Joyce, Graeme Lauren, Lydia Marchione, Claire Mitcher, Ronald Naire, Emily Rowley Jones, Paul Sheehan, Andrew Tinkler, Susanna Tudor-Thomas.
Youths and Girls, Hotel Guests and Waiters, Gondoliers and Boatmen, Street Vendors and Touts, Citizens of Venice, Choir in St Mark’s, Followers of Dionysus, Strolling Players, Beach Attendants
Dancers: Thomas Edwards, Guglielmo Garavini, Ollly Gerrie, Yossi Goodlink, Harry Hancock, Liam Morris, Ben Owen.
Chidren: Ellie Broad, Alisa Haria Horova, Lincoln Mahon, Gabrielle McHardy-Costaine Brown, Jak Wright.
Conductor: Edward Gardner.
Assistant conductor: Martin Fitzpatrick.
Chorus master: Paul Brought.
Assistant chorus master: Genevieve Ellis.
Leader: Janice Graham.
Piano: Murray Hipkin.
Music Staff: Murray Hipkin, Nicholas Andsdell-Evans.
Director: Deborah Warner
Designer: Tim Pye
Costume: Chloe Obolensky
Lighting: Jean Kalman.
Video: Finn Ross.
Choreographer: Kim Brandstrup.
Assistant director: Anneleen Jacobs.
Assistant costume: Luca Costigliolo.
Assistant choreographer: Joanna O’Keefe.
Staff director: James Hurley.