Some OK features, but not the best production
madamemusico | Cincinnati, Ohio USA | 05/22/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I broke down and bought this video because I had seen the original Metropolitan Opera production of this work back in 1974 and was mesmerized by the integral use of stage space, acting, dance and miming that made up the production. I had been warned that this production was on a smaller scale because the Glyndebourne stage is not very large, but I was unprepared for the very amateurish sets, costumes and direction, especially in the opening scenes.
Director Stephen Lawless did not use his space particularly well. The sets and costumes (by Tobias Hoheisel) are amateurish and unimaginative. In many ways, it looks like a Red Mill Dinner Theater production of Britten's opera, which is not a compliment. Robert Tear is a good actor, though visually not as good as Peter Pears and vocally not as fine as Philip Langridge on the new Chandos recording of the opera (a five-star production, to be sure). Indeed, other factors contributing to my dissatisfaction are the boxy sonics which do not convey any feeling of atmosphere and the underdone conducting of Graeme Jenkins. I was also not terribly pleased by the costumes worn by baritone Alan Opie in his various guises as Aschenbach's amaneuensis: as the Traveler, he looks like a '40s Nazi villain; as the Elderly Fop, he's dressed exactly like Truman Capote; and as the Hotel Manager, he looks like Erich von Stroheim. I'm sure that there are some viewers who would enjoy this kind of thing, but I found it annoying and distracting.
The production gets better, however, once Aschenbach is on the beach in Venice. The dancers, choreographed by Martha Clarke, are all superb, and their movements blend in beautifully with the surrounding space. I was also intrigued by the way the end of Act 1 was staged: Tadzio glances in Aschenbach direction but NOT directly at him--he is looking at his mother and sister--and Aschenbach does not blurt out "I love you" loudly and insistently, as Pears did, but softly and with embarrassment.
Generally speaking, Aschenbach is a latter-day Faust, an academic so totally involved in his own little world that he has paid scant attention to the world around him until it is too late. The beauty that he finds, and falls in love with, in the form of the teenaged Tadzio, does mirror Thomas Mann's own latent bisexuality, but that's not the point. The point is that Aschenbach is embarrassed by his own attraction, realizing that for whatever reasons there could never be any physical contact between them, and certainly not wanting to be like the Elderly Fop, who he describes as a "young-old horror." Thus he fights his inner self, eventually realizing that he cannot deny his deep attraction for the boy yet also cannot act on it. The dilemma sends him reeling into a deep depression which leads to his decision to stay in cholera-ridden Venice and die there, having nothing much to live for. It is a very deep psychological work that parallels Britten's own feelings about his attraction to the love of his life, tenor Pears. Britten could not deny his love for Pears, yet never felt comfortable defining himself as a "homosexual" because he thoroughly detested that lifestyle.
Whether or not you like "Death in Venice" will, of course, depend on your own values, but to ignore these kind of deep issues because you don't like or agree with them will not make them go away. They are an integral part of human nature, and will exist as long as the human race exists. "Death in Venice" is, at the very least, a mature, adult response to feelings and attractions that one may experience yet never be able to explain. I only hope that, someday, we have a video production that better conveys the overall dream-feeling of this work.
One final note. The video does NOT date from 1973; that is merely the copyright date of Britten's score. If you look at the bottom of the video box, you will see that it is clearly marked (c) BBC TV 1990."
Excellent production but problem with story
Bob Epstein | Minneapolis | 09/13/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Other viewers may respond more positively than me to Britten's "Death in Venice." The searching and inward qualities of the writer Aschenbach are certainly noble, but, while I am far from a prude, there is a repulsive quality here which loses me. Nonetheless, Britten is a terrific opera composer, his last opera has magnificent music and the performance is superb. Robert Tear is very moving as Aschenbach. He is in excellent voice and his superb, plangent tenor is matched by eloquent acting. Alan Opie, too, is quite fine, in very good voice and offering a wide variety of acting skills in his numerous roles. The staging, video and sound are first rate. Although this is in English, I wish subtitles were available, as they would have made it decidedly easier to understand the entire opera. Fast moving choruses are indecipherable without them. I definitely got more out of this by reading through a libretto as I watched. Still, if you can embrace the story, this is recommended. By the way, the production is not from 1973 but from 1990."
A voice teacher and early music fan
George Peabody | Planet Earth | 04/15/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"GO FOR THE CD BEFORE THE DVD
'Death in Venice' was Britten's final opera, and it is really not the best way to become acquainted with it, for the filming is 'drab'and lackluster, but I'm wondering if it COULD actually be portrayed any differently. After all, the story centers around one character: Aschenbach (sung very well indeed by Robert Tear).
I found myself following the libretto that came with the Chandos WONDERFUL 2005 recording directed by Richard Hickox with the BBC singers and Philip Langridge as Aschenbach. There are times when it is difficult to understand the words of some of the songs. Of course, if one is familiar with Mann's story, it's not that hard to 'keep up', but I want to know specifically what the singer is singing.
Alan Opie (playing several parts) does an outstanding performance as he does on the Chandos disc. Michael Chance, who we see and hear too briefly in the role of Apollo, sings the part with great gusto and is really rather intimidating (as a 'god' should be)!!!!
I personally would much rather listen to it on the Chandos disc than see it on stage."