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I finally get Death in Venice

After four productions over two decades that left me feeling apathetic towards the dying composer and his morbid anti-hero, Deborah Warner’s production at English National Opera  has finally made sense of the piece for me. The first half-hour still went on forever, but a combination of foggy colours (designer Tom Pye) and pinpoint pit work (conductor Edward Gardner) finally brought coherence to a piece all too often marred by self-pity.

death in venice2


John Graham-Hall, who is on stage almost throughout, steered clear of pathos in his portrayal of the aging German writer so bedazzled by a Polish boy (Sam Zaldivar) that he dares not approach him. Andrew Shore was camp-it-up Signore-this and Signore-that in all the cameo roles and the ENO chorus  revelled in their 1912 summer outfits.


death in venice

The nub, though, was the pity of it all. Deborah Warner grasped that this is not an opera about a dirty old man ogling a dancing boy. It’s about an artist who knows he is dying and thinks of all the things he has left unrealised. Aschenbach is Benjamin Britten – not the boy-fancier of tabloid legend but the relentless, workaholic maker of a line of new operas that, as he composes this one, he knows has come to an end. That’s when the heart swells and the tears flow.

This was opera at its most grown-up, watched by a packed house aged nine to 90. The short run is now over. I hope they bring it back soon.

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  1. Stanley says:

    Yes but…..why no sur-titles. Having to concentrate on the libretto meant that much of the music passed me by.
    I have heard D in V at least three times but the words are not clear. And I do not blame my hearing aids!!
    ENO has a policy so why was it not adhered to in this case, and not announced in advance

    • Don’t look to the libretto! Look to the stage!!! Concentrate on what is going on in front of your eyes and ears, and even if some of the text passes you by you should at least be able to understand what is happening. If you have already seen DinV 3 times I would have thought you should no longer have need of a libretto, hearing aids or not!

  2. I for one am glad there were no surtitles. They would have destroyed the magical lighting by Jean Kalman.

    • Definitely NO to surtitles!!! They spoil not only the lighting, they spoil any chance anybody in the theatre has of truly concentrating on what is happening on stage. They are a constant distraction, and should banned outright! I am so happy ENO chose not to use them for DinV, and maybe they will ditch them for all future productions. That would be nice :-)

      • the aesthetic case for no surtitles is a strong one for a production as visually intoxicating as this.
        However,I went with an opera singer friend where English is a strong second language and he didn’t catch much of the text and found the whole experience rather alienating.

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