Opera North’s Death in Venice depicts both the beauty of the Italian city and its plunge into a world of disease, self-hating and dark desire, all to the rise and fall of music. The work, adapted to opera by one of Britain’s most prolific composers, Benjamin Britten, is perfectly framed for a modern audience, incorporating contemporary choreography and set pieces to create an exceptional performance. Whilst the opera still presents barriers for younger generations, this spectacle is the perfect chance for them to be broken down.

This spectacle is the perfect chance for barriers for younger generations to be broken down. One of the most refreshing aspects of this production is the choreography (designed by Daniela Kurz and Katharina Bader). Whilst beginning simply with children playing on a beach, the movement soon becomes more balletic as Aschenbach is drawn into darkening dream sequences; the children becoming athletes and moving with enthralling composure.opera north

One of the most refreshing aspects of this production is the choreography. This carries through the entire performance and grows ever rapid and intense as both music and character drive forward. The beat of the percussion helps to create a dazzling synchronicity to segments to the ever growing enrapture of the audience. The complexity of some of the group performances are truly remarkable. Even simple motions, such as rowing through the murky waters, become hypnotic in a strangely controlled beauty as oars are gracefully glided onstage.

The complexity of some of the group performances are truly remarkable. The orchestra (conducted by Richard Farnes) is a fabulous accompaniment to the singers, most notably Aschenbach (Alan Oke) and multi-roling hotel manager (Peter Savidge). Both have an uncanny ability to act the roles whilst professionally delivering perfectly emotionally balanced voices. This is specifically true for Oke who is outstanding, especially in the second act when he struggles with his burning passions for the young boy, Tadzio.

Oke is outstanding, especially in the second act. The crippling realisation of his hatred for his aging body is reflected in his quavering baritone projection, compared to the weighted bass notes when he comes to realise his inevitable fate of remaining in the city. The music of Britten is compelling, using the entire orchestra to great effect even when singing is not present. The light, clean sharpness of early summer Venice is punctuated by sparking notes from woodwind and brass, whereas the turn of season brings a swelling of bass sounds to create a haunting soundscape which encompasses the audience. The orchestra, whilst sometimes understated by the opera itself, is the nonetheless flawless in performance.

The music of Britten is compelling, using the entire orchestra to great effect even when singing is not present. The set, whist not hugely complex, is utilised intriguingly, most notably the use of ‘canals’ which line the edges of wooden promenades. Movement through the water in enjoyment causes splashes to flutter softly in the white light, however when the realisation of a spreading plague are recognised, the water is made to seem sickening.

There are still problems with engaging younger audience. There are still problems with engaging younger audience, the main demographic of the evening dominated by older individuals. Also an awareness of the plot does add to the enjoyment of the piece, as although certain movements are distinctly clear or even, bizarrely, subtitled, the operatic singing does at times impair the ability to follow the scene.

With the rise of musical theatre, perhaps it is only a matter of time till opera sees a stirring youth revival. However regardless of these debatably insignificant factors, this opera of Death in Venice is fantastic, all due to an elegant simplicity which comes from the movement and singing, lightly brushed with chromatics of Britten’s work. With the rise of musical theatre, perhaps it is only a matter of time till opera sees a stirring youth revival.

James Hamilton

 Star-Rating-41

4 stars 

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