We must all lose what we think to enjoy the most – Premiere von Benjamin Britten’s „Tod in Venedig“ an der Wiener Volksoper, 14.05.2022
The announcement that Volksoper Wien is cooperating with the Royal Opera House Covent Garden producing Benjamin Britten’s Death in Venice made prick one’s ears. And as if this opera wouldn’t be a huge challenge in any aspect, the Covid measures prohibited the premiere in Vienna for nearly two years. And indeed it was absolutely worth waiting for this production. SIR DAVID MCVICAR‘s staging is quite minimalistic but very well thought-out: Black columns are framing the stage and moving between and during the scenes. Like Aschenbach is floating through Venice by using the gondolas, also the pictures of each scene are floating, often wafted through fog and darkness, only the sun of the Lido brings in deceptive sunrays. On top, Sir David’s pictures are quoting well-known sujets: The set-up at the beach reminds of a Renoir painting, Aschenbach’s outfit has partly been taken from Visconti’s movie and the partly surrealistic set-up shows that this Venice is much more the river Styx than the Canale Grande.
Accordingly it is the amazing MARTIN WINKLER who acts as a Charon, rowing Aschenbach to his final destination. Starting as the mysterious traveler he is playing seven roles that are drafted as Mephisto like phantoms, exhibiting Aschenbach his own desires. Mr. Winkler is able to bring all unsavoury aspects these different roles are asking for on stage: The evil has got several faces – always obnoxious and disgusting. Not only does it mislead Aschenbach to make himself becoming a ridiculous clown. As leading player Winkler is arranging that the crowd is laughing about Aschenbach, screaming out loud: „How ridiculous you are“! Also as concierge, who reminds us of Stanley Kubrick’s „The Shining“, he is the one that decides who is allowed to come and allowed to leave. A brilliant interpretation, showing all aspects of dark temptations. Bravi, bravissime for this extraordinary performance, Mr. Winkler. You surpassed yourself!
Also hard to describe what RAINER TROST gave on stage as Aschenbach: Already haunting from the first second on, he sang uninterrupted nearly 3 hours and played extremely emotional. Being torn between discipline and self-possession at the one hand, as well as his dionysian desires, tumbling into an ecstactic intoxication at the other. Finally, he follows his craving and abandons himself, negating his own will and sanity. It is a tour de force, Mr. Trost is performing and mastering courageously. Every tone was fitting, the thoughts and feelings of Aschenbach had been told emotionally enthralling and captivating until the very end. We were allowed to marvel an exceptional artist on the peak of his creative oeuvre. Bravi, bravissime RAINER TROST – this was outstanding!
In his dancing only role, young dancer VICTOR CAGNIN danced a wonderful choreography and expressed the role as Tadzio. Not only a stunning body control, but also an excellent example showing the possibilities of modern ballet. Bravi, bravissime for this performance!
Also countertenor THOMAS LICHTENECKER impressed with his clarity and his ambiguous play as voice of Apollo. Listening to such a voice in such a pent-up atmosphere created a surreal experience reminding of the elves at Shakespeare’s „Midsummer Night Dream“ – bravi as well!
Conductor GERRIT PRIESSNITZ inspired the orchestra accordingly and created a tonal world between phantasm and febrile reality. Dense, rousing, powerful and fiery. Placing the choir at 4 boxes at every side of the audience was also an excellent idea to support the disruption of Aschenbach and increase the density of Britten’s anyway very intense music.This was music on the highest level of quality and finest art in its purest form. Bravi, bravissime Maestro Priessnitz!
So, finally, it has to be said that Sir David McVicar created a production with a deep impact, showing the abysses of the human mind. Together with the beautiful choreography from LYNNE PAGE and GARETH MOLE the possibilities of modern Opera had been demonstrated in the best way. Forget about annoying wanna-be modernistic productions at Wiener Staatsoper: This was definitely one of the best evenings of this season, a must-see and a more than dignified keystone at the end of ROBERT MEYER’S last season as director of Vienna Volksoper. Mille grazie for this sidereal hour of opera!
Eric A. Leuer