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Ambiguous Venice: Britten's final opera

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In his final opera, Death in Venice, music and literature are intertwined to an extent that is perhaps unique in even the literary Britten’s output. The main protagonist, Gustav von Aschenbach, is not just himself a writer, much of what he communicates is about the writer’s art and craft, its meaning and its significance. Indeed, it might be possible to go further and to suggest that whole trajectory of the opera is about the progressive disintegration of an individual whose literary gifts and vocation have deserted and destroyed him.

This paper will attempt to explore the wider significance for Britten of the many forces at play in this magnificent final opera. In particular, it will examine the impact of removing the device of the narrator, and whether this allowed Britten to reveal more of himself in this work than had Thomas Mann in the original novella about Aschenbach. I will also compare Aschenbach’s views on writing to those of Britten about composition, by considering the various relationships between verbal and musical forms, processes and techniques at work in this piece.

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This talk is part of the Homerton Seminars series.

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