Death in Venice (1973), the last and arguably the most profound of Benjamin Britten’s operas, was premiered just three years before his own death, when he was already seriously ill. The libretto, by Myfanwy Piper, closely follows Thomas Mann’s novel Der Tod in Venedig (1912), in which some of the major aesthetic and existential questions of our own times are raised, with explicit references to their treatment by Greek authors.
The seventeen scenes into which the two parts are divided tell the tale of writer Gustav von Aschenbach’s harrowing journey to Venice and his stay in the city during a cholera outbreak. Aschenbach, the narrator of the opera, feels the weight of the years and his inspiration has run out.
In Venice he ponders on the great questions that have haunted him throughout his life: the fascination of absolute beauty, the yearning for eternity, and the contemplation of death, the one and only certainty.
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