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Opera performances

Britten:  Death in Venice

English National Opera, May-June 2007

May 24, 7:30pm; May 26, 6:30pm;
May 31, 7:30pm; June 02, 6:30pm;
June 05, 7:30pm; June 07, 7:30pm;
June 09, 7:30pm; and June 13, 7:30pm
 

LONDON An English National Opera and Theatre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels presentation of an opera in two acts with music by Benjamin Britten, libretto by Myfanwy Piper, based on the short story by Thomas Mann. Directed by Deborah Warner. Conductor, Edward Gardner.
 
Gustav von Aschenbach - Ian Bostridge
Traveller, Elderly Fop,
Old Gondolier, Hotel
Manager, Hotel Barber,
Leader of the Players,
Dionysus - Peter Coleman-Wright
Voice of Apollo - Iestyn Davies
Tadzio - Benjamin Paul Griffiths
Mother - Eliza Bennett
Porter - Peter Van Hulle
Strawberry Seller - Anna Dennis
Hotel Waiter - David Newman

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"In the novella, Aschenbach is 53, but Pears was 10 years older in 1973, when he created the part in the opera. Warner chooses a protagonist 10 years younger than Mann’s, her regular collaborator Ian Bostridge, who looks even more youthful than he is (in his celebrated film, Visconti was closest with a 49-year-old Dirk Bogarde). Bostridge is, however, the most questionable aspect of ENO’s production. Never the most natural of actors, and a singer of limited colour and range (the role lies, as yet, a bit low for him), he will, as Aschenbach, undoubtedly divide Brittenites. Warner uses his strange body language and tortured expressions to evoke the discomfort and anguish of a widower and father who finds himself in the unfamiliar emotional state of falling in love with a young man. Aschenbach's intellectuallisation of his dilemma as a struggle between conflicting Apollonian (aesthetic) and Dionysian (sensual) tendencies suits Bostridge, a singer as idiosyncratic and self-regarding as Pears was in his own, different way, and, with Warner's help, he makes the part his own. He triumphs, with the audience at least, thanks to his tireless singing and superlative diction, which project into the troublesome Coliseum auditorium so effortlessly that surtitles are dispensed with. For a first attempt at Britten's most demanding tenor role, this is a considerable achievement. He earned his ovations."--Hugh Canning, the Sunday Times, June 3, 2007.

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"Britten and Piper re-fashioned Aschenbach's all-important introspection as sustained monologues. These passages of direct address are accompanied only by piano. That makes Bostridge, one of the world's leading recitalists, almost ideal casting.

"A committed intelligence shines throughout his impressive interpretation of this demanding role. Using splendidly clear diction, his voice sounds fuller and more assured than in anything he has done onstage since his outstanding debut as a ghastly Peter Quint in Warner's production of Britten's 'The Turn of the Screw.'"--David Benedict, variety.com

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"I was apprehensive about going to see Ian Bostridge in the monumental tenor role of Aschenbach. A few years back (as Orfeo at the Barbican) he seemed to encounter a physical struggle to get his voice where he wanted it to be. But this time, although Aschenbach is on stage in all seventeen scenes of the opera (and he sings most of the time during the two and half hours of music), there was no sign of struggle. Bostridge seems to be made for the role, in more ways than one.  He delivered a magnificent performance both as a singer and as the character Aschenbach. Bostridge’s experience of his university years (reading philosophy) seemed to come in use in his portrayal of struggling philosophical thoughts. However, in the penultimate scene, his representation of a tired old man’s walking seemed to be slightly overdone."--Agnes Kory, musicalcriticism.com

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"The big question hanging over this revival concerned the latter, with the casting of a star tenor 20 years too young for the main protagonist.The stunted, blocked mind of the ageing artist freed by the god-like grace and beauty of the boy is a crucial aspect of the story and Bostridge's performance undoubtedly lacks a dimension because of his relative youth. The painting of Aschenbach in the final scenes, where he replicates the vanity of the old/young fop that he despises so much, doesn't make a lot of sense here.

"But, if Bostridge doesn't answer "the austere demands of maturity", he brings to the role all his characteristic intelligence and sensitivity and his lack of years just means his performance has scope to grow over time. It is a compelling performance, beautifully sung, with elegant phrasing and exemplary diction, rendering surtitles unnecessary."--Simon Thomas, musicomh.com

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"But the production is dominated by Mr. Bostridge. Although some have found him, at 42, too young for the role, Mann’s notes suggest that he thought of the character as about 53, and Mr. Bostridge, his back bent with perplexity, gives a courageous performance. At one point he thrashes about the stage floor in a dream scene when, tempted by Dionysus, he experiences erotic feelings for Tadzio.

"The music suits the myriad qualities of Mr. Bostridge’s unusual voice: spectral yet warm, virile yet boyish, and, when need be, raging and intense. Mr. Bostridge’s English diction was a model of clarity, with every word a living presence."--Anthony Tommasini, New York Times, June 11, 2007

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"At ENO, Ian Bostridge sings the arduous role for the first time and surmounts all the technical obstacles and despite looking too young for the part is utterly convincing throughout. Some critics have been spitefully harsh about his interpretation – one can not think why. He stays the course magnificently and whilst not a natural stage animal, Warner manages to draws a multi-faceted performance from him. The audience rightly gave him an ovation worthy of his moving and meticulous performance."--Keith McDonnell, uk.gay.com

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"Yet Death in Venice is essentially a one-man show. Vocally, Ian Bostridge is probably the best Aschenbach one could hope to find today, and he adds an apt world-weariness to the gawky petulance he has brought to so many roles. Yet he seems too young: Aschenbach's troubles seem to stem from an individual's neurosis rather than a potentially universal fear of age and encroaching death. Of all Britten's anti-heroes, Aschenbach might have been the one he most identified with; but here, despite one of Bostridge's finest operatic performances yet, he is the hardest to connect with."--Erica Jeal, guardian.co.uk

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"The triumph is wholly predicated on Bostridge's acutely sympathetic and vividly enacted Aschenbach - a reading of the part that, brings out the best in him. Britten puts far too much weight on his central character - the opera is really a three-hour monodrama, half sung, half-recited - but Bostridge holds our attention, especially in the later stages where Aschenbach's physical decline is touchingly achieved.

"Bostridge's Aschenbach is not a fey old queen but a tall, moustachioed gent who dresses and behaves with dignity, a bit like an upmarket George Orwell. And he sings with unflinching beauty, intelligence and stamina. It's left to Peter Coleman-Wright, in the multiple baritone roles, to play up the camp, sinister side of the work."--Andrew Clark, ft.com

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"From Bostridge's first entrance, so self-effacing that the first-night audience continued to yatter, he seems almost afraid to take command of the stage, to show us a man so haunted by self-pity as to evoke our own. Instead, as he winds up hiding the cholera threat from the boy's family to avoid being deprived of the object of his obsession, he manages to make this usually sympathetic character little more than repulsive. If that was his intention, bravissimo. If not, as I suspect, he would be well advised henceforth to confine himself to recitals and recordings."--Anthony Holden, The Observer, at guardian.co.uk

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"The massive role of Aschenbach is a vocal tour de force for Bostridge, and he brings a natural lieder singer's intensity to the delivery of the text. Such a demanding and long part also shows his limitations as an actor. Sometimes his twitchy gestures suit the role of the awkward Aschenbach, but there's a crucial difference between acting awkwardly and being awkward. It's a difference Bostridge doesn't always negotiate."--Warwick Thompson, bloomberg.com

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"Bostridge, singing the role for the first time, has never sounded better.

"His vocal control and diction are outstanding. He has spoken of his hesitancy in singing so elderly a part, written for Britten's partner Peter Pears, who was 62 at the time. Bostridge need not have worried. His more youthful account, hair swept back, with moustache and chapeau d'artiste looking like Wyndham Lewis, has its own poignancy."--Fiona Maddocks, thisislondon.co.uk

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"Under the starkly poetic direction of Deborah Warner, the opera – for much of its passage, a one-man internal monologue and meditation on his obsessive interest in a young Polish boy – offers a tour-de-force for singer Ian Bostridge."--Mark Shenton, thestage.co.uk