Death in Venice

Benjamin Britten

Synopsis

Act One

Scene 1. Munich.
Aschenbach, a celebrated author who, in his works, puts rational control before passion, is going through a moment of profound artistic crisis.A chance encounter near the cemetery with a mysterious traveller convinces him to leave for the South in the hope of finding new energy and inspiration.

Scene 2.On the Boat to Venice.
Among the passengers on the boat to Venice, Aschenbach meets the Elderly Fop, a man dressed and grotesquely made up to appear younger than he is. The sight of this odious character casts a shadow over the writer’s arrival in the Lagoon.

Scene 3. The Journey to the Lido.
Although the Old Gondolier who takes Aschenbach to the Lido is another sinister figure, who disappears as soon as his boat touches land, and the gondola itself seems to be a vision of death, the writer is confident that his stay in Venice will be beneficial.

Scene 4. The First Evening at the Hotel.
The manager of the hotel shows Aschenbach to his room. Shortly afterwards, in the diningroom, the writer sees Tadzio, a young Polish boy of great beauty, surrounded by his family. Aschenbach reflects on the ambiguous power of attraction that beauty exercises over the artist.

Scene 5. On the Beach.
Despite being unable to work, Aschenbach decides to remain in Venice. On the beach, he again has occasion to admire Tadzio’s beauty as he plays with other boys.

Scene 6. The Foiled Departure.
Following a visit to the city, during which he is disturbed by the Scirocco wind, as well as by street sellers, Aschenbach resolves to leave. His luggage is sent on the wrong train, he is forced to remain.He returns to the hotel.

Scene 7. The Games of Apollo.
Aschenbach identifies in a dream that the games played by Tadzio and his friends on the beach resemble the ancient rites in honour of Apollo. In a state of ecstasy, inebriated by the power of beauty, he confesses – unheard – his love for the boy.

Act Two

Scene 1 (8).The Hotel Barber’s Shop.
Aschenbach hears talk of an epidemic threatening Venice, but the barber, when questioned about the sickness, is very vague.

Scene 2 (9). The Pursuit.
Aschenbach finds confirmation of an outbreak of cholera in the unhealthy atmosphere of the city and in the German press. The writer follows Tadzio and his family through the streets and squares of Venice, fearing that they will abandon the city.

Scene 3 (10). The Strolling Players.
Together with the other guests staying at the hotel, Aschenbach attends a performance of some Strolling Players.When asked about the epidemic, the leading musician’s replies are as vague as the barber’s, and at the same time sound somewhat threatening.

Scene 4 (11). The Travel Bureau.
Aschenbach is in the midst of a crowd of tourists all demanding definite news about the epidemic and seeking to leave Venice. In the end, the clerk admits that Venice is in the grip of an outbreak of cholera and advises the writer to leave as soon as possible.

Scene 5 (12). The Lady of the Pearls.
Aschenbach decides to warn Tadzio’s mother about the danger posed by the plague.However, when he sees her, he finds it impossible to speak to her: his only concern is his obsession for the boy.

Scene 6 (13). The Dream.
In a feverish sleep, Aschenbach dreams he is listening to a discussion between Apollo and Dionysos, and that he participates in the latter’s triumphant orgy of song and dance.

Scene 7 (14). The Empty Beach.
Aschenbach watches Tadzio and his friends playing on the empty beach.

Scene 8 (15). The Hotel Barber’s Shop.
At the barber’s shop, Aschenbach has his hair dyed and is made up to look younger and more attractive.

Scene 9 (16). The Last Visit to Venice.
Aschenbach follows the Polish family around Venice. He is excited and exhausted, desperately conscious of his passion for Tadzio. He buys some strawberries but they are overripe and musty. Aschenbach reflects upon Plato’s Phaedrus, and the path leading from the sensual discovery of beauty to the abysses of passion.

Scene 10 (17). The Departure.
At the hotel, Aschenbach learns that the Polish family is to leave. For the last time, sitting on the beach, the writer watches Tadzio and his friends playing. The game becomes more violent and Tadzio is thrown to the ground by his friend Jaschiu.Aschenbach cries out as Tadzio walks into the sea,Aschenbach lies dying.

Synopsis by Cesare Fertonani, translated by Chris Owen

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