Britten's `Death in Venice' at the Met

BENJAMIN BRITTEN'S ``Death in Venice,'' not heard at the Metropolitan Opera since 1974, has returned. The satisfying production, using photographs of Venice and some paintings projected on the backdrop, is by Colin Graham and belongs to London's Royal Opera.

Tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson sings the role of Gustav von Aschenbach, a novelist who travels to Venice. Baritone Thomas Allen sings the roles of seven Venetians who meet von Aschenbach and serve to propel von Aschenbach toward his fate.

Johnson, who sang the same part in 1983 in Geneva, performs splendidly and with restrained emotion. His detached manner is perfectly calibrated to the telling of von Aschenbach's wrenching story of obsession, plague, and death.

Composer Britten builds tension inside von Aschenbach between Apollo (self-discipline) and Dionysus (abandon). The two impulses are given voice (offstage) by countertenor Jeffrey Gall as Apollo and Allen as Dionysus.

The character of Tadzio, the young boy with whom von Aschenbach becomes infatuated, was designed by Britten to be danced, rather than sung. Jeffrey Edwards makes his Metropolitan debut as Tadzio, while Karin von Aroldingen portrays his graceful mother.

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