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Britten Death in Venice

Cast includes: Aschenbach John Graham-Hall baritone roles
Andrew Shore & Tim Mead

Conductor Edward Gardner
Director Deborah Warner
Set Designer Tom Pye
Costume Designer Chloe Obolensky
Lighting Designer Jean Kalman
Choreographer Kim Brandstrup

ENO at the Coliseum, London 14 June 2013

Britten's last opera, completed before a heart operation under the shadow of his own likely death, has never become a repertory piece like several of his others and remains problematic; notably, there is no DVD yet !

I admired this revival of Deborah Warner's production vastly, especially for the ravishing stage picture, with superb choreography of the large cast's stage movements (including small children's) and its astonishing lighting by Jean Kalman.

From excellent dress circle seats I failed to catch far too many of the words and deplored the absence of subtitles, which had become generally accepted at ENO, but now are sometimes missing, to the delight of the Telegraph's critic, but to our heavy loss (see the arguments at why-we-have-to-learn-to-love-surtitles.html).

Maybe we'll all be able to hear Myfanwy Piper's text far better on the live Sky Arts 2 telecast, 24 June ?*

The lovely interval picture of gently swaying curtains was ominously marred by a blank central square, which made the whole thing look like a computer screen and eventually told us that the first scene was located in Munich, that's all, though it stayed in place for possible future revelations which never materialised...

Some scenes were too perfunctory, such as the hairdressing (done far more tellingly in Visconti's film) and more detailed reservations with which we agreed are traversed perspicaciously by Anne Ozorio (always worth reading), Opera Brittania and Silvia Luraghi for The Opera Critic on the same production at the Scala, Milan, where some 40% of the audience departed half-way !

The expensive programme book, which no one will have read before the performance, is highly informative about this still problematic opera. If you don't have it, Canadian Opera's Study Guide is an admirable read to prepare for seeing Death in Venice on the TV.

Peter Grahame Woolf


Britten Death in Venice

SKY Arts 2 TV transmission, 24 June 2013 *

Disappointingly, the text's audibility is little better if anything than in the Coliseum, and if (as I hope) it will become an ENO DVD, the usual optional libretto subtitled in several languages is necessary; Myfanwy Piper's text is often linguistically tricky to take in.

That apart, the filming & recorded sound are fine, with the ENO orchestra under Edward Gardner resplendent.

Amazing that there is so far no DVD of Britten's last opera; this opportunity ought not to be missed.

(The libretto is available on line - bi-lingual English/Italian.)