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Death in Venice: The Opera By Benjamin Britten (DVD) [NTSC] [Region 0]

2.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Format: Classical, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: All Regions
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Exempt
  • Studio: Tony Palmer
  • DVD Release Date: 23 July 2012
  • Run Time: 131 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B007XU0U7I
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 99,772 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

Tony Palmer's film of Benjamin Britten's opera Death in Venice, shot on location, is released on DVD for the first time on the director's own label. Based on Thomas Mann's masterly novella - also the source for Visconti's famous movie - it follows the last days of a writer, disillusioned, in despair and nearing death, in disease-ridden Venice. The cast includes Robert Gard as Gustav von Aschenbach, John Shirley-Quirk as The Traveller, James Bowman as The Voice of Apollo, Vincent Redman as Tadzio, the object of Aschenbach's infatuation, and Deanne Bergsma as Tadzio's Mother. Steuart Bedford conducts the English Chamber Orchestra, and Peter Pears makes a special appearance. Death in Venice was to be Britten's last full-length opera, first performed at Snape Concert Hall on 16 June, 1973. The composer was already ill with heart problems, and completing the work at all had clearly been a struggle. But he was determined to write an opera and a leading part specifically for his long-time lover and inspiration, Peter Pears. And it was Pears who gave the triumphant American première in October the following year at his own debut in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York. It was soon after Britten had died, in December 1976, that Pears first asked Tony Palmer to film the entire opera with all the original cast, if possible on location in Venice. After all, apart from Suffolk, Venice was the place which meant most to Britten. Despite a miniscule budget (less than £100,000), Palmer eventually managed to fulfil Pears' ambition in 1980 - but without the tenor himself as Aschenbach. By then, a couple of strokes had effectively ended his singing career, but the Australian tenor Robert Gard frequently looks (and sounds) almost more like Pears than Pears himself.

Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars
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Since I liked very much Tony Palmer's "A Time There Was" I had great hopes with this film and I was rather disappointed. The good side of it is mostly in the filming: beautiful pictures and atmosphere. But the opera itself... There are several cuts, e.g.: the wonderful Chorus ("Phaedrus learned what beauty is") from the scene 7 act I, the whole scene 14 act II. It is specified in the score that "cuts should not be made, other than those optional cuts indicated by the composer" and these ones are not among them. For a version that was claimed to be "close to the original", it is misleading.
There is an appearance by Pears (1:58:35 to 2:02:35) singing (and acting) the beautiful Phaedrus aria from scene 16 act II when he replaces Robert Gard - I gave the 3rd star for these 4 minutes.
There are no subtitles (even not in English).
I must say that I prefer to listen to the CD with the original cast, Pears included (and it does make a difference) and without cuts.
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This really is bad! The sound quality is much too close and does the chamber orchestra version of the score (not Britten's original version) no favours and the tempi are rushed, so the music has no room in which to breathe. But it's the filming of the opera which is truly awful - obviously shot on a low budget, the images often make little sense in relation to the words and the mixing of location and studio footage is painfully obvious.

Buy the original recording from the 1970s with full orchestra and no pictures and let your imagination do the rest.
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I have just returned from Venice. I saw the imaginative original production several times and have seen several other subsequent productions.
For me this captured the essence and atmosphere of the opera. In different circumstances I might well be equally scathing about cuts and the not highest quality sound BUT right now I find it magical. What a great opera this is! How brilliant was Britten!
I understand the caveats of the other reviewers. By all means listen to the original recording and let 'imagination be your guide'. I found the piano sound on this especially 'odd'. I liked the merging of location and studio and thought that it was very skilfully and purposefully executed.
But Britten's music and the sight of the beach and the waves...that is something else.
Has this done a disservice to Britten's opera ? Certainly not.
If need more than the music from a CD and you need a DVD of an opera house production, this is not for you.
If you know the opera (well) and accept this for what it is - a film on location and in the studio - 'marvels will unfold'
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(Spoilers included)

'Death In Venice' is one of my favourite operas so coming across this film seemed like a real find. However, upon watching it I find it severely lacking, mainly in terms of the cuts. Surely if you're going to make a full-length film of an opera you would keep all the music in. Some very important observations of Aschenbach's are cut, for example his opinion of and what he says about the Elderly Fop during the boat scene. Considering Aschenbach eventually emulates the Elderly Fop, albeit inadvertently, it seems ridiculous to cut it. This cut is just one of many both of Aschenbach's part and those of other characters, that are equally important but have been sadly left out. Britten's music is there for a reason and perfect as it is so to cut even one bar seems almost an outrage.
John Shirley-Quirk as the various baritone roles is marvellous but his talent seems wasted in this film. Robert Gard's performance as Aschenbach is a bit lacklustre and the general sound quality of the film is rather poor too.
There's some footage of Pears as Aschenbach in the 'Phaedrus' scene (including a couple of photos of Britten) which, though well-performed, seems pointless. Was Robert Gard unable to sing that section for some reason? One can only assume that Pears had retired by the time this film was made (1981), otherwise he would probably have reprised the entire role.

Also, this is not a filmed live performance. All the singing is dubbed on to miming, which is difficult to get used to. Aschenbach alternates between singing and thinking, which doesn't always work and makes the film seem disjointed. Some of the imagery, for example that used in the scene with the Traveller, seems incongruous.
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