Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.



Death in Venice
15 Jun 2008

See Venice and then die

For the belated Spanish premiere of Britten’s Death in Venice, 35 years after its creation in Aldeburgh, Barcelona seems a felicitous choice.

Benjamin Britten: Death in Venice

Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona
A new co-production with Teatro Real, Madrid
Performance of 30 May 2008

Above: Waltraut Meier (Sieglinde), Plácido Domingo (Siegmund)
All photos © Antoni Bofill


The 17 scenes in this opera, succeeding at a very tense pace, profited by the Liceu’s sophisticated machinery and lighting equipments to turn the whole into a motion picture, if one unrelated to Luchino Visconti’s award-winning masterpiece Morte a Venezia. Incidentally, the opera and the film share both the same year of first release (1973) and the ominous fame of swan songs of their respective creators, neither of these having survived 1976. At that time, the openly homoerotic charge of Thomas Mann’s original novel (1913) still worked as a stumbling block for mainstream opera-goers, but nowadays the coming-out of respectable old professor von Aschenbach is probably perceived as no big news and definitely not worth such a tragic punishment as death by cholera or, arguably, a “passive” suicide.

Guilt and punishment are such stuff as tragedy is made of. Since the shift in current morals caused feeling of guilt to disappear from the Western public discourse on homosexuality (even less so in Spain, where gay couples are legally allowed to marry), tragicism is no longer an option for staging Death in Venice. Thus director Willy Decker felt bound to pepper the story a bit by adding such hypes as Aschenbach kissing the boy Tadzio on a megascreen or desperately waltzing with him around the stage. True, all that happens as if in a dream, but when the agonizing scholar gets overwhelmed by a heap of naked male bodies choking him to death, one cannot help wondering how counter-heroically all that display of flesh can work, irrespective of the viewer’s sexual leanings. Let’s stop it here, lest both the director and this reviewer be exposed as homophobics in disguise…

The tribute to postmodern commonsense having been paid, Decker felt free to follow the libretto as literally as librettist Myfanwy Piper had done with Mann’s novel. His Venice is a disquieting city peopled by ruffians, gondoliers, porters, whores and peddlers of dubious goods and services, their faces and clothes painted with garish clown-like colors. The hollow cosmopolitan socialites assembling in the Grand Hôtel des Bains at the Lido are their victims, yet Aschenbach cannot sympathize with them either. All he is after is ideal beauty, whether in a Caravaggio painting on display at a museum or in Tadzio’s angelic face. In the end, both images morph in front of his eyes into one nightmarish obsession, while the Gods of Greece — Apollo and Bacchus — fight over his soul with contrasting messages from heaven, as in a mystery play. The sets are gorgeous, with blue skies recalling Magritte and pitch-black waters in realistic movie projections.

Death-Venice2.pngleft: Uli Kirsch (Tadzio) [with Aschenbach’s Dopplegänger], right: Hans Schöpflin (Aschenbach)

The same struggle between life and death breathed from the orchestral pit, mirroring the shifts of wind and tide from the iodine scent of the open sea to the heavy stench of the Lagoon in Summer and back — a common experience for Venice visitors, cleverly described in the libretto. Under Sebastian Weigle’s baton, the taxing score emerged in a glory of harmonies and colors: full-tone scales alternating with polytonalism, piano with Java-style gamelan and far-away echoes of the Baroque. Also the singing company was top-level. The German tenor Hans Schöpflin spun his exquisite mezza voce over the stream of inner monologues and extatic flourishes devised by Britten for his aging mate Peter Pears. Aschenbach’s protean opponent, tempter, flatterer, was the Texan baritone Scott Hendrick, always magnetic throughout his seven so diverse roles. Countertenor Carlos Mena, a reputed Baroque specialist, lent his sunny and mellow alto range to Apollo’s oracles. Within the swarm of cameo roles, particular praise was deserved by the sanguine Begoña Alberdi in the double bill of Strawberry Seller / Newspaper Seller, and by Leigh Melrose, a New Yorker, whose extended narrative solo as The English Clerk in the travel bureau (“In these last years/ The Asiatic cholera has spread/ from the Delta of the Ganges”) conveyed a thrill of Doomsday.

Carlo Vitali

Death-Venice3.pngDeath in Venice, Act 2, sc. 10 (The strolling players)

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):