Death In Venice

DEATH IN VENICE Benjamin Britten

English National Opera. London. Summer 2007

Review by Polly Hope


A fine production of Britten‘s last opera. The problem is, is it really a fine opera? I have seen many productions of this work and always end up feeling that Thomas Mann’s novella still has the upper hand. There is always something slightly limp about Britten’s music for this one. Oh yes, I know it is a dreadful thing to say but surely Death in Venice is about Coming Out and getting old and completely frustrated sex, yet there never ever seems to be any eroticism in any production I’ve seen. Perfectly constructed, perfectly scored but always chill.

Ian Bostridge is fantastic as Gustav von Aschenbach; he looks a bit young maybe, but what the hell. The entire work rests on his performance, he must be singing for at least two hours totally alone. Difficult stuff, and he never wavers. The dancing role of Tadzio is played by Benjamin Paul Griffiths who does well enough but has no sex appeal and looks like he’s off to play for Man U. The rest of the cast is fine and the evocation of misty Venice with billowing curtains, mist and brilliant lighting, is good.

However no sense of the horror of cholera being hushed up, oh yes they all say the Venetian population is dying, but they all looked healthy enough to me.

Deborah Warner, the director, has done a good job keeping everyone continually on the move except Achenbach who spends most of his time singing reclining in a deck chair, and all the kiddies are great in bathers down to their knees.

Worth a visit if only for Bostridge’s amazing tenor voice. Better I think to look at, though some I am told like listening to this curious flat work.