Death In Venice

I first read “Death In Venice” over twenty years ago. It was a university text in first year, I think. I seem to remember quite enjoying it because it was reasonably short and I thought the themes were quite interesting, although of course, there’s some a bit pervy about an old bloke who falls in love with a teenage boy.

As part of our studies, we also watched the famous 1971 movie version, Morte a Venezia, starring Dirk Bogarde. Maybe it was wrong place, wrong time, but I didn’t really enjoy the movie. Imagine if you would a group of 19 year olds in a stuffy university cinema did when he finally died? They cheered! In some ways it reminds me of the story about the urban myth about Pia Zadora’s performance in the stage version of “The Diary of Anne Frank”, which was so bad that when the Nazis came to the house, the audience stood up and yelled: “She’s in the attic!”

This production of Benjamin Britten’s opera of “Death In Venice” at the Sydney Opera House draws heavily on the imagery of the film, with a similar palette of colours and a brooding sensibility, and the character of Tadzio bore a remarkable physical resemblance to the film’s Bjorn Andresen. The music, the performances, all were terrific.

In particular, Philip Langridge as Von Aschenbach was amazing, especially as the opera mostly takes the form of a solo work. In a performance that combined both energy and subtlety, Langridge was the perfect person for this role. He has sung with most of the major orchestras, opera companies and Festivals world wide during his 40 year career, with a repertoire stretching from Baroque to the present day.

And of course, being opening night, there were a few celebrities in the audience including Dame Joan Sutherland. I was lucky enough to be invited back to the Green Room and there she was. I asked someone if she’d enjoyed the performance to which he replied, well she missed the first half. What? “Yeh, she arrived late and they wouldn’t let her in, so she spent the first half in the Green Room”. Great story, eh?

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