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Subject: ENO's Magnificent "Death in Venice" (DVD)
From: "G. Paul Padillo" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:G. Paul Padillo
Date:Fri, 15 Dec 2017 11:01:29 -0500

text/plain (77 lines)

I could not listen to the Met’s “The Merry Widow” last night (or most nights) so to escape 
the brutal New England chill, I decided to watch the 2012 revival of Deborah Warner’s 
production of Britten’s “Death in Venice” for the English National Opera.  I have loved this 
work since my high school days, and my appreciation of it has only grown to a point where 
I’m beginning to think – despite Grimes/Budd/Gloriana/War Requiem all being at the top of 
the heap - it may be one of Britten’s most ingenious scores.  

Several weeks ago there was a discussion here about this opera being "dull" and/or 
"uninspired."  I couldn't disagree more if I wanted to.  My dear, long-missed friend and one 
time frequently marvelous list member, Ann Purtil credited the Met’s production as being 
responsible for pulling her back into the world of opera.  So there’s that.  

Even having only seen it on video, Warner’s is one of the most innovative, creative, 
seamless productions I’ve seen in some time.  The integration of dance, movement, lighting 
and acting are wed to Britten’s most unusual score in a manner that feels completely 
organic.  There is nothing extraneous, nothing that does not serve and move forward this 
beautiful tragedy to its heartbreaking conclusion.  

As much as I loved the Aschenbach’s of Peter Pears and Robert Tear, John Graham-Hall 
doesn’t portray the tortured “hero” so much as inhabit him entirely.  I felt I was witnessing 
the disintegration of this character so intimately it bordered on voyeurism.  Onstage nearly 
throughout, Graham-Hall sings with the required refined elegance Britten demands here, 
but it is his integration of myriad facial expressions, reaching gestures of limbs combined 
with that voice that reflects Aschenbach discomfort with life.  When he speaks of his dead 
wife and recently married daughter, it is shot through with an inherent sadness I’ve never 
before noticed – or at least paid much attention to.  Graham-Hall elevates this brief moment 
to the point where it feels like the raison d'être for all that transpires from start-to-finish.  
Here is an artist at the height of his powers delivering a performance that will haunt me to 
the grave.

Aschenbach being onstage nearly throughout and having the lion’s share of the text, “Death 
in Venice” is oft-dismissed as a one-man show, which is about as far from the mark as it 
gets.  This performance gives us Andrew Shore – who, within minutes – made mincemeat of 
my initial reservations.  He brings to brilliant life all of the disparate characters, tying each 
to the other with the genius of a master storyteller.  Ultimately, his is the sinister, guiding 
hand on the complex, confusing, road to hell.  

Tim Mead makes a chillingly handsome appearance as Apollo singing in what could easily be 
called “heldencounter.”

Former Royal Danish Ballet dancer (and current Boston resident) Sam Zaldivar is perfectly 
cast as Tadzio making not only plausible, but understandable Aschenbach’s obsession.  He is 
appealing in his naturalness and his execution of the difficult, at times wildly acrobatic 
choreography of Kim Brandstrup.  Brandstrup’s dance and movement charge this difficult 
work with a fluidity that ripples throughout and he and Warner manage to magically 
maneuver a large company of chorus, actors, dancers and principals through the opera’s 
many scenes and locales in an almost dizzying fashion.  

Edward Gardner leads the ENO forces through this amazing score with a master’s hand, 
ever a judicious balancing act of percussive, piano, orchestra and wordless chorus who in 
concert create a painting for our eyes and ears.  This is the first time I’ve experienced this 
opera where I felt it almost springing directly over centuries from Monteverdi to right now.  
The-house audience remain rapt and silent for close to a minute as all of us watch Tadzio 
elegantly pirouetting into the blinding sun as Aschenbach slumps into his final sleep. 

For those unfamiliar with this opera, I can’t think of a more appealing way to remedy that 
situation.  For fans, you owe yourselves the opportunity to experience this one.  It is 
magnificent.  It is available on DVD, or "for free" for Amazon Prime members.

I recently learned Warner’s production was slated for New York City Opera, but was 
ultimately nixed.  That would have been something. 


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