Death In Venice: Benjamin Britten’s Two-Act Opera -OpEd


On the evening of May 17, 2024, at the Marguerre-Saal opera hall in Heidelberg, Benjamin Britten’s two-act opera “Death in Venice” was staged. Outside, there was a heavy rainstorm, and the cloakroom was filled with umbrellas and raincoats.

The libretto, inspired by Thomas Mann’s novella and written by Myfanwy Piper, was performed in English with German supertitles.

The widowed poet Aschenbach has always adhered to writing with iron discipline. A journey to Venice is supposed to revive and inspire the exhausted writer. However, in Venice, he falls in love with the young Tadzio. These unspoken and unacted-upon feelings turn his entire identity, including his artistic identity, upside down.

At the beginning of the play, Aschenbach suffers a heart attack, falls to the ground, experiences nightmares and hallucinations in melancholy. On the stage, there is a kitchen on the right and a salon on the left.

Conductor Dietger Holm confidently directs the orchestra.

In 1973, at the Aldeburgh Festival, Benjamin Britten and librettist Myfanwy Piper premiered their adaptation of Thomas Mann’s novella. Britten created music with very moving dream imagery and mood swings that deeply affect the audience.

The composer, much like the poet before him, focused on the question of how strongly intellect, craft, and personal feelings should influence artistic work, rather than a melancholic elegy for an aging man’s youth and tabooed sexuality.

The silent role of young Tadzio has a significant stage presence, as he often appears in Aschenbach’s thoughts and fantasies. The love of an adult man for a child is thematized and implied on stage, but there will be no actual assault.

The extras, dressed in pale green, pink, purple, and blue, should remind us of the decay of Venice in Thomas Mann’s novella.

The eccentric old man is truly embodied by Winfrid Mikus. However, there is a high price to pay for this portrayal. His voice has seen better days. Instead of Britten’s characteristic clear, lyrical tenor, we hear a thin, toned speech. Additionally, his movements are clumsy. One finds oneself watching a Britten-Mann parody, with humor arising more unintentionally. While Tadzio’s dance music plays, mimicking modern sports on the family television screen, he enthusiastically imitates it with pantomime.

Winfrid Mikus (Aschenbach) and Franko Klisović (Voice of Apollo) move within the confines of petit bourgeois. The senses of art and desire evoked by Britten and Mann can only forcibly emerge in this environment.

Occasionally, Aschenbach prepares a meal and eats directly from the pot on the couch. This reduction of petit bourgeois realism clashes not dialectically with music but with the composition hovering between shadow and azure blue, encompassing artistic and erotically forbidden desire.

Haluk Direskeneli

Haluk Direskeneli, is a graduate of METU Mechanical Engineering department (1973). He worked in public, private enterprises, USA Turkish JV companies (B&W, CSWI, AEP, Entergy), in fabrication, basic and detail design, marketing, sales and project management of thermal power plants. He is currently working as freelance consultant/ energy analyst with thermal power plants basic/ detail design software expertise for private engineering companies, investors, universities and research institutions. He is a member of Chamber of Turkish Mechanical Engineers Energy Working Group.

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