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Death in Venice was Britten's final opera--an extraordinarily atmospheric and haunting adaptation of Thomas Mann's novella, evoking the grandeur and shabbiness of a Venice in the grip of disease. He eloquently and evocatively describes the moral and physical degeneration of Aschenbach, the writer whose obsessive pursuit of beauty in the form of a boy leads him into humiliation and death. Robert Tear takes the demanding role of Aschenbach opposite Alan Opie, who sings the various baritone parts. To portray the beauty and fascination of the Polish family and Tadzio, Britten made prominent the use of dance, by turning these characters into dancers, choreographed in this production by Martha Clarke. This new production for Glydebourne is directed by Stephen Lawless and conducted by Graeme Jenkins.
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Benjamin Britten was one of the 20th century's greatest opera composers and one of the most productive, with more than a dozen operas to his credit. Death in Venice, his last, is based on a moody, introspective novella by Thomas Mann about a German writer in a dry spell who takes a vacation in Venice hoping to revive his inspiration but instead plunges into a terminal identity crisis. The enigmatic plot is a series of confrontations--with his sense of failure, with intimations of mortality (a plague that terrifies the city), with the creative and destructive powers of love, and with tantalizing glimpses of unattainable, alien beauty, embodied in a vacationing boy whom the writer admires timidly from a distance.
Death in Venice distills themes found throughout Britten's work: the loss of innocence; the relation between illusion and reality; tensions between society and the alienated individual; mysterious encounters that defy rational explanation. This carefully organized production offers virtuoso performances by Robert Tear as the writer and Alan Opie as a sort of doppelganger in a half-dozen cameo roles. It will delight hard-core Britten enthusiasts, but is not the most suitable way to begin an acquaintance. Those approaching Britten's operas for the first time are advised to start with the witty Albert Herring, the spooky Turn of the Screw or the tragic Peter Grimes, all of which exist in good video recordings. --Joe McLellan
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