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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenging work, beautiful production, stunning recording, 7 Mar 2014
By 
Keris Nine - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
Thomas Mann's 'Death in Venice' would have been a work that chimed with Benjamin Britten's sensibility on a number of levels. It deals with several recurring subjects - children, innocence, death and corruption - that can be found in the composer's most famous works. If Britten's final opera has however never achieved the same recognition or popularity as his masterful treatment of those themes in Peter Grimes and The Turn of the Screw, it's probably less to do with the strength of the musical composition itself - which is among Britten's most adventurous and powerful - as much as the difficulty of presenting the awkward subject matter and the dark undercurrents found in Mann's short novella in an accessible way to a modern audience.

Thomas Mann's extraordinarily rich work is however fully comprehended by Britten and brought across into musical terms with remarkable facility and precision. The libretto, by Myfanwy Piper, captures the detail and essence of the work while Britten's extraordinary music allows us to sympathise with an elderly writer's queasy fascination for a beautiful young boy observed on the Lido beach in Venice, revealing and expressing deeper undercurrents, unspoken suggestions and perhaps undignified sentiments and human weaknesses. Most obviously there are Eastern references in the music and the instrumentation that speak of the Sirocco conflating it with Aschenbach's old age, sickness and corruption, but the musical language and small-scale, chamber-like structure finds other unconventional means of expression, including a counter-tenor to sing Apollo and using a dancer instead of a singer for Tadzio.

Small-scale and intimate it may be, but the sweep of the ideas expounded requires a much bigger canvas, and that presents certain challenges for the theatrical presentation of the work. Deborah Warner's critically acclaimed production for the English National Opera with Tom Pye's inventive set designs achieve that quite brilliantly. There's an openness and simplicity here that works with the text of the libretto without over-illustrating it, creating the mood and atmosphere of Venice through the use of colour, light and silhouettes suggesting water and skies. It looks ravishingly beautiful as well as creating a vivid openness for the opera to work within. The space also allows room for the ballet dancers to express all that youthful freedom and ambiguity that is contained within the figure of Tadzio, or projected upon him by Aschenbach. A lot evidently rests on this first-person perspective of Aschenbach and it could hardly be better expressed than in John Graham-Hall's performance here. It's a role that requires commitment and sensitivity to the variations of tone in Aschenbach's descent from order to chaos, and Graham-Hall's demeanour from sophisticated traveller to crumpled madman is perfectly judged and delicately phrased throughout.

English National Opera have really only recently embraced the idea of filming, broadcasting and releasing productions for the cinema and DVD, and if this production is anything to go by, we've lot to look forward to in future projects. On Blu-ray this looks and sounds outstanding. The image quality is crisp and captures this magnificent, colourful production beautifully. It might even be a little to clinically perfect for some. The audio tracks are impressive, both LPCM 2.0 and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 crystal clear, revealing all the detail of Britten's unconventional instrumentation. You can hear every single instrument and note in the superbly balanced mix and the quality and clarity of the singing. There are no extra features on the disc other than a Cast Gallery, but the booklet contains an essay and an outline synopsis of the 17 scenes. The Blu-ray is region-free with subtitles in English, French, German and Korean only.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely performance, 27 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Britten: Death In Venice [John Graham-Hall, Andrew Shore, Tim Mead] [DVD] [2014] [NTSC] (DVD)
I saw this at ENO and the dvd did not disappoint. Excellent singing and lovely performance from the orchestra.
Beautiful production. I would definitely recommend it.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This performance is very sophisicated, but the staging is beyond that word we use carelessly; beautiful., 7 Mar 2014
By 
Ultrarunner (Perth-West Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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How can you pay homage to Britten (1913-1976) who is not only the greatest British composer, but is also one of the all time greats. Yet in life he suffered greatly; a homosexual and a pacifist who felt himself to be an outsider, so he hid behind a mask. It is only in his music, that he showed he was really a highly emotional Man. The Decca complete works of Britten CD box set show this to be so. However, we have been fortunate on bluray, for apart from this Death in Venice, we have the following opera's, Peter Grimes, the La Scala, Milan, with a British cast version, Gloriana, the stunning Rape of Lucretia, Turn of the screw, Billy Budd, and the War Requiem, which is timely, because of the 100 years anniversary of the beginning of the 1914-18 World War.

The opera's libretto written by Myfanwy Piper, is based upon Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Premiere 16th June 1973, The Maltings, Snape, Suffolk. Created as a tribute to Peter Pears.

A brief synopsis.Gustav von Aschenbach, a lonely middle aged writer who is fascinated by the angelic beauty of the youth Tadzio, follows him through the streets of Venice. Yet he has always been interested in form, reason and restraint. However, his love for Tadzio begins to allow him to see that passion is closely related to beauty. He understands that the irony of his life has been that the worship of beauty and perfection of form, removed from feeling, is not possible. The more repressed passion is, the greater strength it has when it finally surfaces. However, his own death from Cholera intervenes.

"The Atmosphere of decay and decadence is uncannily evoked as are the sounds of Venice itself. Britten employs three strata of sound: piano accompanment for the recitatives, a Gamelan percussion for Tadzio and his friends, and the full orchestra for Venice and for the other characters." (Holden, A).

Deborah Warner's beautiful production of Britten's final masterpiece has been acclaimed as an " exquisitely achieved marriage of music, drama and design" (the Independent). John Graham-Hall who was Peter Grimes, in the La Scala production, the Guardian considers Hall's performance of Aschenbach " a remarkable and harrowingly believable performance." This is a traditional staged performance, circa early 1900's.

Act I scene 2. Funnel, seats, rails and baggage, give an impression of a ship. The passengers wear early 20th century clothes. In the Hotel, Palms set in various places, long very light brown curtains. The people mainly women, are dressed in light summer long dresses of the period. A few men and women in dark attire. Sky with wisps of clouds. Scene 5. The cobalt blue sky, gradually fading into a lighter shade of blue, where one can see a faint outline of a distant coast line. Children playing next to the outline of a beach hut. Off center a woman painting. Aschenbach is at the other end , sitting and watching boys play. I think at the beginning of Act 2, a haunting interlude floats across the theatre. It evokes a state of an uneasy state of mind, for disease is nearby. Even the sky and sea is grey. At Aschenbach's death, there is a stark orange orb; two boys including Tadzo play nearby him. He is sitting on a seat. As he dies Tadzo walks away into the sun as the sky grows dark. All the time a unforgetable theme is played by the orchestra.

A great deal of thought has gone into the scenery. A clever and subtle, well thoughtout production. I cannot praise the singers, Aschenbach Graham-Hall, Andrew Shore's 7 parts and Tim Mead as Apollo, plus the other parts enough. The orchestra of the English National opera is lovingly conducted by a long standing champion of Britten's music, Edward Gardner.

ALL REGIONS. LPCM. DTS HD Master audio. 16.9.10801p. 5.O DTS Master Audio.True surround sound. Subtitles: English, French, German, Korean.Production 2013. Booklet. Essay "East meets West."

REFERENCES: Guinn, J & Stone, L( eds ). The St James opera Encyclopedia. 1997. Visible Ink. Holden, A.(Ed). Penguin Opera Guide. 1995. Viking. Kildea, P. Benjamin Britten. A life in the 20th Century. 2013. Allen Lane.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 14 Aug 2014
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A fine performance by Graham-Hall
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