Britten

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Britten: Death in Venice
WORKS: Death in Venice
PERFORMER: John Graham-Hall, Andrew Shore, Tim Mead, Sam Zaldivar, Laura Caldow, Mia Angelina Mather, Xhuliana Shehu, Joyce Henderson, Marcio Teixeira; ENO/Edward Gardner; dir. Deborah Warner (London, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: OA 1130 D; Blu-ray: OA BD7141 D

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It’s not often one can say a production is improved by viewing on a small screen, but, for me, this one was. Although Tom Pye’s stylish sets with their fluttering curtains and rippling projections were acclaimed (and beautifully lit by Jean Kalman) I found something too harshly clean about Deborah Warner’s 2007 ENO production. One couldn’t imagine even a whiff of rank, stagnant water. Transferred onto the screen, it seems to acquire a film of grime, which, together with compelling performances and an astonishingly vivid reading from Edward Gardner, grips the viewer.

Perhaps its success on the screen is also down to the intimacy of the drama: one can feel alone in witnessing – intruding upon – the internal collapse of Aschenbach. Ian Bostridge took the part originally, but for all the beauty of his vocalism, it was a curiously awkward performance. Tenor John Graham-Hall, in the 2013 revival, lacks the tonal allure – and does not always blossom lyrically – but is a real stage animal, convincing us utterly of his descent into obsession. He smokes and fidgets, and ages before our very eyes, harrowed by bewildering emotions. The camera draws us into his phantasmagoric pursuit of Tadzio through the streets, and we begin to feel that all the scenes might be fantasies in his head, with the result that Dionysus and Apollo’s fight for his soul seems a more credible part of the drama than usual.

Andrew Shore adds a welcome note of spicy danger to each of his characters, Tim Mead is a radiantly fresh-voiced Apollo. Curly-locked Sam Zaldivar as Tadzio has just the right unselfconscious charisma, and Kim Brandstrup’s choreography for the boys is naturalistic but sufficiently spectacular to warrant Aschenbach’s longing gaze. Above all, every colour, timbre and texture of this richly imagined score comes blazing through under Gardner’s baton, from the urgent menace of the first act to the luminous devastation of the second.

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Helen Wallace