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Britten: Death In Venice [1989] [DVD] [2001]

4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Actors: Robert Tear, Alan Opie, Michael Chance, Peter Snipp, Gerald Finley
  • Directors: Robin Lough
  • Format: Classical, PAL
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: German, French, Spanish
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Exempt
  • Studio: ARTHAUS
  • DVD Release Date: 28 Feb. 2001
  • Run Time: 138 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005B0ET
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 91,796 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

Product Description

The 1990 Glyndebourne performance of Britten's final opera. Gustav von Aschenbach is a novelist who travels to Venice to seek inspiration. Once there, he has visions of doom, but his attempt to leave is foiled when his luggage is sent to the wrong destination. He cannot help admiring a young boy called Tadzio on the beach, but finds himself unable to speak to him. All the while a disease is spreading through Venice, and Aschenbach becomes aware of the death and decay around him.


Britten's last opera, Death in Venice will always be associated with the two voices for which the major parts in it were written. It is the achievement of Robert Tear and Alan Opie, in this magisterial performance by Graeme Jenkins with the Glyndebourne touring company, to produce telling performances that are entirely separate from our memories. Tear's Aschenbach is more bull-like than Peter Pears' moralist dreamer; his drift into sentimental eroticisation of the boy Tadzio upsets him as much for the weakness it reveals as for the collapse of his virtue. Alan Opie is as much of a virtuoso as John Shirley-Quirk in the multiple roles that culminate in the corrupting voice of Dionysus--the hotelier who persuades Aschenbach to stay, the barber who gives him a toupee and paints his face, the street entertainer, the rake who flirts with sailors; the otherworldly counter-tenor of Michael Chance is spookily right as Apollo. The scenes for dancers manage to be at once dreams of the erotic and plausible adolescent sea-side wrestling; the direction by Stephen Lawless and Martha Clarke manages to capture the mistiness of the piece from which fate and strangeness suddenly emerge.

On the DVD: The DVD has subtitles in German, French and Spanish, as well as an acoustic which brings out the subtleties of Britten's string, brass and percussion in this difficult work. --Roz Kaveney

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bonzo on 7 Feb. 2012
Format: DVD
This is a great document of a classic performance. Robert Tear gave a performance of Aschenbach which is unlikely to be bettered. Alan Opie was in magnificent voice and must have broken the record for operatic costume changes. Michael Chance sings Apollo with a lightness of tone with thickened only a few years later. And look out for a young unknown called Gerald Finley making a 5 minute appearance as the English clerk. For a 1989 production the sound is remarkably good. The complex score includes a lot of pseudo Gamelan percussion sounds which are beautifully played by the London Sinfonietta (luxury orchestral casting!). I find no problem with a lack of English subtitles since the enunciation of the singers is exemplary. I feel privileged to be be able finally to see and hear this production with Tear, as he was ill on the night I saw it in Manchester. Amazingly, on that occasion, John Graham-Hall took over at short notice and received a standing ovation at the end.
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17 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Mr. John Crompton on 11 Feb. 2007
Format: DVD
There are so many drawbacks to this DVD that it is difficult to find anything positive to say about it. You will need a very good tv and DVD player to be able to adjust the brightness andcontrast etc in order to actually see what is going on for much of the time. The sound is only in straightforward stereo which is a great pity given how interesting the score is. There are no English surtitles which is ridiculous given how difficult it is to make out many of the words of the minor characters. To be fair what makes it such a poor experience is above all the original stage production and the way it was filmed. It is the only time I can recall where all the effort seems to have been put into making the acting area appear as small as possible rather than the opposite and there is very little attempt to suggest specific locations.

There are a couple of CD sets of this available and my advice would be to stick to them until a better DVD comes along.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Leopold Berger on 8 Dec. 2008
Format: DVD
I do not want to involve myself in the discussion whether this production resp. filming is to appreciate or to abandon - for me it is up today the only "Death" on DVD and because I love this opera so much I am grateful to have this disc.
Musically and visually I found myself impressed by some beauty of acting and the real perfection that Robert Tear brings to the character of Gustav von Aschenbach.
I also admire Alan Opie in most of the roles he gives - so I am not disappointed at all that he sings and acts the "collection" of important random persons so important for the way Aschenbach has to go.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Mr. J. E. Spurrier on 11 Jun. 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is amazing. Although I am biased because I am one of the male boy dancers in it.....!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Some OK features, but not the best production 22 May 2005
By madamemusico - Published on
Verified Purchase
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.
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Excellent production but problem with story 13 Sept. 2002
By Bob Epstein - Published on
Format: DVD
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.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
a voice teacher and early music fan 15 April 2007
By George Peabody - Published on
Format: 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.
1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
You should see the play first to understand the opera 8 Oct. 2012
By A Customer - Published on
Verified Purchase
There are two drawbacks with this production: no subtitles (although in English, I found the sung words almost impossible to understand); and unless you have a comprehensive understanding of the story, such as by seeing the play, you will have little meaningful comprehension of the plot. The performers were praised for their work, so the jacket says, so I suppose it is otherwise well done. Britten is not one of my favorite composers.
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