Oct 25

Benjamin Britten’s Death In Venice as performed by the Canadian Opera Company.

I’ve never really taken to Britten’s music, though Death In Venice is somewhat of an exception. It’s also one of a handful of operas I’ve wanted to see live, and can now cross off my list. Unfortunately, the Met’s “Live In HD” experience over the past few years means I may never enjoy a live performance as much as I used to. I’ve been spoiled by the intimacy and quickness of things on camera, as opposed to the static predictability of an opera’s distant unfolding onstage. This production is slow and serious. For better or worse, it feels like “Art.” The first act is visually beautiful but remarkably undramatic, and while the COC orchestra is aurally stunning under conductor Steuart Bedford (very capably matched by Alan Oke’s performance as the novelist, Gustav von Aschenbach), the musical emphasis on atmosphere means it doesn’t ever really jump to life. It’s in the second act where both the drama and the music kick in, as the aging Aschenbach explores his attraction for the beautiful Tadzio, an adolescent Polish boy vacationing on the Lido. While contemplating what this says about his views on art and literature, he somehow manages not to think of what it means in terms of his no-longer sublimated sexuality. An introverted, intellectual libretto, it shines with inner drama if you’re in the mood for some serious contemplation. If not, it will just feel slow.

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