A Guide to Death in Venice

2 March 2024

Welsh National Opera is thrilled to present the first production in Wales of Benjamin Britten’s magnificent final opera, Death in Venice, which will tour across Wales and England in the coming weeks. A brilliant and introspective addition to our 2024 Spring Season, the opera will be under Olivia Fuchs’s expert direction, who returns to the Company following her acclaimed productions of The Makropulos Affairand Der Rosenkavalier. Here’s our definitive guide to this brand-new production.

Death in Venice was first performed on 16 June 1973 at Snape Maltings, Suffolk as part of the Aldeburgh Festival, which composer Benjamin Britten, his partner, Peter Pears, and Eric Crozier founded in 1948. The opera follows the story of the aged, successful writer, Gustav von Aschenbach, who travels to Venice to attempt to cure his writer’s block. At his hotel he comes across the young Polish aristocrat, Tadzio, with whom Aschenbach immediately becomes infatuated. From there onwards, Aschenbach wrestles with his soul, daring not to give in to his true desires or risk a deadly fate in the cholera-infested city.

Death in Venice takes place, of course, in Venice, a city of canals in northern Italy with a rich history of music and art. It’s set during the early 1910s, before the outbreak of the First World War, around the time when the original Death in Venice novella by Thomas Mann was published in 1912. WNO’s new production brings to life the era’s decadence and decay with designer Nicola Turner’s minimal set and beautiful, traditional costumes. 

The music of Death in Venice is incredibly special, considered by some to be the high point of Britten’s musical output. Led by conductor Leo Hussain, WNO Orchestra and Chorus will create the mysterious and sultry atmosphere that Britten depicted so brilliantly in his last operatic work. The musical score is particularly notable for its use of East Asian orientalist influences that depict Tadzio and his family, the seven characters that are sung by a single baritone, and Aschenbach’s demanding, once-in-a-lifetime role for a tenor.

WNO’s production features a stellar cast, with Mark Le Brocq making his first appearance as Gustav von Aschenbach, Roderick Williams as the taunting multi-charactered baritone of Aschenbach’s nightmares, and Alexander Chance as the Voice of Apollo, a role that his own father has also famously performed. Joining them on stage is Antony César as Tadzio, and fellow circus performers from NoFit State, Diana Salles, Vilhelmiina Sinervo, Selma Hellmann and Riccardo Saggese as Tadzio’s family and friends. As non-verbal roles, Tadzio and his companions take to the air as aerial performers and use silks, straps and slack ropes. 

If we’ve piqued your interest, don’t miss WNO’s brand-new production of Death in Venice, opening at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre on 7 March before touring to Llandudno, Southampton, Oxford, Bristol and Birmingham until 11 May 2024.