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Death in Venice

2014
2h 35m
Music
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Cast

John Daszak (Gustav von Aschenbach)Leigh Melrose (The Traveller)Tomasz Borczyk (Tadzio)Anthony Roth Costanzo (Apollo)

Directors

François Roussillon, Willy Decker

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Synopsis

Filmed on December 17 and 19, 2014 at the Teatro Real, Madrid, Spain. A co-production by the Teatro Real and François Roussillon et Associés with the participation of France Télévisions and NHK with the support of the Centre national du cinéma et de l'image animée. Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) considered turning Thomas Mann's 1912 novella Death in Venice into an opera for some time before the first notes were written. A decisive step was taken in September 1970 when he requested a libretto from Myfanwy Piper. She had already supplied the texts for two of the composer's previous operas, which were both based on Henry James novellas: The Turn of the Screw (1954) and Owen Wingrave (1970). Britten became aware that at the time he began work on his musico-theatrical treatment of Death in Venice, the director Luchino Visconti was in the process of adapting Mann's short story for the screen. Visconti's film, which uses the music of Gustav Mahler, was released in 1971 and garnered widespread publicity. Britten was always careful to point out, however, that he had been planning to adapt the same story as an operatic project for five or six years before the release of a film he never saw. During the next couple of years, at a time of deteriorating health, the composer took on a heavy workload, including several recording and performing commitments as well as creative projects. He managed to complete the score of Death in Venice before undergoing open-heart surgery in hospital in May 1973. The opera, which turned out to be Britten's last contribution to the medium made its debut on 16 June 1973 at The Maltings Concert Hall, Snape as part of the 28th Aldeburgh Festival. On account of the composer's delicate state of his health, there was no possibility of his attending the premiere, though he was able to listen to the live broadcast of the second performance six days later. Britten was anxious that the narrative should adhere closely to the original source and secured the support of Golo Mann, son of the author, for his project. The outline of the story is starkly simple. Gustav von Aschenbach, a famous, middle-aged novelist who is having a creative block, travels to Venice to restore his failing powers. While he is staying there, he becomes infatuated with the beauty of a young Polish boy, Tadzio, who is also visiting with his family. Aschenbach's increasing obsession coincides with a cholera epidemic in the city which the authorities attempt to conceal. As the Polish family are preparing to depart, Aschenbach sits on a beach, where, after witnessing the boy being humiliated in a rough game, he dies. One of the reasons Britten was so determined to complete Death in Venice was his desire to write a substantial leading role for his long-term personal and professional partner, the tenor Peter Pears (1910-1986), to whom the opera is dedicated. Pears had taken supporting parts rather than the lead in all Britten's major operatic works since Billy Budd (1951) but now he was presented with arguably his greatest role and one which tested fully his musical and interpretative powers. Aschenbach is a dominating presence throughout and his vocal contributions range from arias to declamatory recitatives. Mostly accompanied (or rather punctuated) by piano, these recitatives are conceived as interior monologues which allow the character to ruminate and soliloquise. Providing continuity between the opera's many short scenes, they are written in the free notation Britten had developed in his church parables Curlew River (1964), The Burning Fiery Furnace (1966) and The Prodigal Son (1968). The one exception to this is the opening soliloquy when Aschenbach declares he has come to a creative halt-'My mind beats on and no words come': in this instance, the notation is measured and the accompaniment orchestral. The other main part in the opera is the disquieting, mysterious Traveller encountered by Aschenbach in a Munich graveyard and who persuades t

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