Aldeburgh Festival: Death in Venice

Death in Venice, by Benjamin Britten, Snape Maltings, June 8

Death in Venice, Snape Maltings, June

The 60th Aldeburgh festival opened with a performance of Britten's last opera Death in Venice.

Having heard two performances of the opera within a week (the other at ENO) the inspiration and imagination of the ailing composer have struck me with more than redoubled force.This splendidly conceived and executed performance filled the hall with the spirit as well as the sounds of Britten in his last years.

The title role was initially defined by Peter Pears but time has allowed other distinguished singers to develop their interpretations. On Friday Alan Oke proved himself worthy of this inheritance. He looks right, sounds right, indeed is right. His reactions to the early sights of Tadzio were possibly a little slow but his gradual collapse in Act Two was superbly controlled. His voice is clear and focused at all dynamics levels and this is a performance for him and others to cherish.

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Casting a sometimes jovial, sometimes cynical eye over Aschenbach's road to ruin was Peter Sidhom as The Traveller et al. With his clear, resonant voice and powerful stage persona he filled all his roles with élan. All singing parts were well delivered and the athletic dancers performed crisply and nimbly.

The direction by Yoshi Oida was excellent in the way it used the stage - duckboards surrounding a central area of water allowed for several gondola channels and ample space for dancing. The use of a mirror and screen gave us the view from Ashenbach's room (not that great a view, actually) and some increasingly polluted water as the cholera epidemic advanced.

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Full credit must go to the Britten-Pears orchestra under Paul Daniel for creating an arresting sound world, full of undercurrents, taking centre stage when required but always ready to serve the action.

A noteworthy opening to the festival.

Gareth Jones

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