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Britten – Death in Venice

Gustav von Aschenbach – Michael Schade

The Traveller – Nmon Ford

The Voice of Apollo – David DQ Lee

Tadzio – Gabriele Frola

Conductor – Simone Young

Director – Ramin Gray

Sets – Jeremy Herbert

Costumes – Kandis Cook

Lighting – Adam Silverman

Choreography – Thom Stuart

Staatsoper Hamburg

29 April 2009



I’d always regarded Death in Venice as a rather dark piece, sombre in mood and muted in colouring, so I was both dazzled and delighted by this gorgeous staging.  Jeremy Herbert’s inventively minimalist designs, Kandis Cook’s costumes, and Adam Silverman’s lighting create together an authentic period atmosphere and capture that unique and heady mix of sunlight, water and sand that has captivated so many visitors to Venice’s Lido, and contrasted sharply with the moments of dark nightmare.


The outstanding choreography, by Thom Stuart, add a further dimension.  Gabriele Frola (Tadzio) and the other young dancers performed with an infectious freedom and joy that was a delight to watch.


Aurally matters were less secure.  From the middle of the first balcony lamentably few words were distinguishable and I was disappointed to have to fall back on the German surtitles. 


The central role of Aschenbach, who is on stage for most of the opera, is a huge challenge to any singer. He must cope with reflective melodies punctuated with recitative that is Monteverdian in character as well as passages that belong to 20th century Sprechstimme tradition.  My earlier remarks about diction aside, Michael Schade seemed comfortable with these challenges and he is also an actor of distinction, well able to portray the progressive crumbling and decay that is the essence of the plot. 


Counter tenor David DQ Lee, who was something of a sensation in the 2007 Cardiff Singer of the World competition, was equally flamboyant of voice as well as costume as Apollo.   The singer who impressed me most of all was the African baritone Nmon Ford in the role that is referred to under the portmanteau label of “The Traveller”, which encompasses appearances as The Elderley Fop, The Old Gondolier, The Hotel Manager, The Hotel Barber, The Leader of the Players and The Voice of Dionysos.  In all these guises his stage presence was electrifying, amply augmented by a rich and deep baritone.  Most definitely a singer to watch out for. 


The orchestra was in great form, though some might challenge Simone Young’s tendency to just keep it churning along, without nuance. 


Serena Fenwick


Photo credit Jörg Landsberg