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Death in Venice [DVD]  
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Set in Venice, the English composer's beloved city, Death in Venice is Britten's last opera, written between 1971 and 1973. Recorded at Teatro La Fenice in Venice, 2008, this is the most modern version of Death in Venice available on DVD. The set however was not new. It was the same set used for a production Pierluigi Pizzi made in Genoa in 2000 that was so successful it won the Abbiati Prize, a prestigious Italian music prize.
The beauty and grandeur of the production of the DVD make it an exceptional treat.It is unlikely we will see another Death in Venice to rival this one visually for a long time.Highly recommended.GRAMOPHONE RECOMMENDS --Gramophone,Feb'11
Critics Choice 2011 --Gramophone,Dec'11
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Have to say I struggled to understand the praise others have lavished on it. The problems are manifold. The orchestra struggles with what is obviously an unfamiliar idiom: they sound both under rehearsed and not technically secure so that, for example, the wonderful Overture: the approach to Venice: sounds uncertain and lacks the oddly Balinese splendour as the bells of St Marks ring out. Aschenbach is played by a very young man with a decent voice but he lacks any understanding of Mann's complex hero and is far too young and lacks the stage presence to carry off the role: he looks half the age he should be and his light voice is simply ill suited to the role. On stage he is too easily and too completely overshadowed by the sinister Shirley-Quirk figure. Sadly the actor who plays him is simply grotesque, inappropriately, improbably intimate with the austere aristocrat he discomforts. The more I watched, the more convinced I was that the producer, the performers and the conductor simply did not know the work! Bizarrely, Tadzio is far too old, dark haired and more like an adult gymnast than an ethereal young dancer so it's very difficult to understand Aschenbach's fatal infatuation with forbidden fruit: what we see is just a drab, potentially consenting gay couple! The stage business is clumsy and inept... there's very little space so the crowd scenes look congested and confused.
After forty minutes of nonsense, I just gave up! Anyone who wants to explore the work should begin, as Dirk Bogard did, by reading Mann's novella a couple of dozen times. Visconti's film has its flaws but is in a different league to this oddly incompetent reading. The Decca recording with Pears and Shirley Quirk remains supreme. Hopefully, one day, we'll get a film which does justice to Britten's final masterpiece.
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I have neither read the original Thomas Mann novella, nor seen the Visconti film, and do wonder how...Read more