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Britten: Death In Venice / Hickox, Chance, Langridge


Release Date: 03/22/2005 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10280   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Philip LangridgeAlan OpieMichael Chance
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of London SinfoniaBBC Singers
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 31 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Madwoman, psychotic fisherman, the ghost of a child abuser, and Shakespearian drag queen. These bespoke roles, and the rest, suggest that Peter Pears’s significant other could mobilize an interesting sense of humor to go with the love and admiration. Maybe Pears took comfort in the prospect of becoming an onstage Aschenbach. In the event, friends suggested the huge scale of the lead singing part in Death in Venice might kill him. The response of the significant other was hardly comforting: Britten suggested that if the opera killed his partner, there could hardly be a better way to go! Philip Langridge, heroically accurate, holds a steadier line than Pears throughout the score, and his vocal death on the beach is moving, beautifully sung, Read more and pathetic at the same time. Before then, the whole Chandos team has given us one hell of a gondola trip for two-and-a-half hours. Better than any video production, this set steers the mind’s eye through Britten’s bewildering, dreamlike maze of modernist canals, gamelan bridges, and philosophical claustrophobia.

Maybe Richard Hickox is getting bored with praise, but here’s some more. This is another major achievement for him, taped last year in Blackheath Concert Halls. Sound is spectacular and real, with well-considered, subtle dramatic production. Nothing is overstated by anyone, but the dynamic grading is a marvel. The score was Britten’s most extended instrumental masterpiece since The Prince of the Pagodas, and Hickox relates the oppressive atmosphere to Busoni’s Faust (strongly), as well as to Berg, Mahler, and West-Coasters like Lou Harrison. The opera, qua opera, is problematic, given the simple story and persistent memories of the Visconti movie, about which the composer seemed rather snobbish. For music theater, op. 88 amounts to a serious stab at the implications of the Mann novella, crafted by Britten and Myfanwy Piper to offer constant commentary on itself as it proceeds, in the truest tradition of early 20th-century modernist discourse. The seriousness of the achievement is a triumph, but it can seem rather glum and slow, while the distanced and detached chorus underlines the point in grey. Tricky business, composing dreariness, decay, death, and dubious impulse. Britten pulled it off, and goodness me, this is an adult piece of work.

Grown-up miracles from Alan Opie in his many roles, reeling Langridge in, and from Michael Chance, as the score becomes kind of unearthly, without relief. Sharp playing all round. Bedford’s set on Decca is sharp, too. It forms a vital part of the history of a work that can seem to lack any sort of sympathetic character. Yet, banal as this might seem, the closer I get to my own death, the more this music means. It grows deeper as I get older and less sure. The links seem clear, now, to mainstream Italian opera and to Stravinsky (Pétroushka, even, in scene 10), who was buried in Venice as Britten was contemplating his own last big theatrical shout. It’s with this new Hickox set of Death in Venice that your humble critic would choose to float away.

Paul Ingram, FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1.
Death in Venice, Op. 88 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Philip Langridge (Tenor), Alan Opie (Baritone), Michael Chance (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of London Sinfonia,  BBC Singers
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1973; England 
Venue:  Blackheath Halls, London, England 
Length: 151 Minutes 29 Secs. 
Language: English 
Notes: Blackheath Halls, London, England (07/21/2004 - 07/24/2004) 

Sound Samples

Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 1: My mind beats on (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 1: Who's that? (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 1: I have always kept a close watch over my development (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 2: Hey there, hey there, you! (Youths)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 2: Overture
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 3: Ah Serenissima! (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 3: Mysterious gondola (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 4: We are delighted to greet the Signore (Hotel Manager)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 4: So I am led to Venice once again (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 4: The Lido is so charming, is it not? (Hotel Guests)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 4: How does such beauty come about? (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 5: The wind is from the West (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 5: Le bele fragole (Strawberry Seller)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 5: Ah, how peaceful to contemplate the sea (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 5: Adziu, Adziu! (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 5: As one who strives to create beauty (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 6: Aou'! Stagando, aou'! (Gondolier)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 6: Naturally Signore, I understand (Hotel Manager)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 6: There you are, Signore, just in time (Hotel Porter)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 6: I am become like one of my early heroes (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 6: A thousand apologies to the Signore (Hotel Manager)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: Beneath a dazzling sky the sea ... (Chorus of Hotel Guests)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: No boy, but Phoebus of the golden hair (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: See where Hyacinthus plays (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: Phaedrus learned what beauty is (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: First, the race! (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: Try your skill (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: Young discobolus (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: Up and over (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: Measure to fight (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act I Scene 7: The boy, Tadzio, shall inspire me (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II: Orchestral Introduction
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II: So, it has come to this (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 8: Guardate, Signore (Hotel Barber)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 9: Do I detect a scent? (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 9: And now I cannot let them out of sight (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 9: Kyrie eleison (Chorus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 9: Gustav von Aschenbach, what is this path you have taken? (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 10: This way for the players, Signori! (Hotel Porter)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 10: La mia nonna always used to tell me (Leader of the Players)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 10: Fiorir rose in mezo al giasso (Leader of the Players)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 10: One moment, if you please (A Young English Clerk) - Scene 11
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 12: So it is true, true, more fearful than I thought (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 12: So - I didn't speak! (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 13: Receive the stranger god (Voice of Dionysus)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 14: Do what you will with me! (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 15: Yes! a very wise decision, if I may say so (Hotel Barber)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 16: Hurrah for the Piazza (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 16: Does beauty lead to wisdom, Phaedrus? (Aschenbach)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 17: The wind still blows from the land (Hotel Manager)
Death in Venice, Op. 88: Act II Scene 17: Ah, no! (Aschenbach)

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