Notes and Editorial Reviews
Also available on Blu-ray
Queen Elizabeth I – Susan Bullock
Earl of Essex – Toby Spence
Countess of Essex – Patricia Bardon
Lord Mountjoy – Mark Stone
Lady Rich – Kate Royal
Sir Robert Cecil – Jeremy Carpenter
Sir Walter Raleigh – Clive Bayley
Ballad Singer – Brindley Sherratt
Royal Opera Chorus
Royal Opera House Orchestra
Paul Daniel, conductor
Richard Jones, stage director
Recorded live at the Royal Opera House, June 2013
- Inside rehearsals, Gloriana Behind the Scenes
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: LPCM 2.0 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, French, German, Japanese, Korean
Running time: 180 mins
No. of DVDs: 2
R E V I E W: 3750970.az_BRITTEN_Gloriana_Paul.html
BRITTEN Gloriana • Paul Daniel, cond; Susan Bullock (Elizabeth I); Toby Spence (Earl of Essex); Mark Stone (Lord Mountjoy); Clive Bayley (Sir Walter Raleigh); Jeremy Carpenter (Sir Robert Cecil); Kate Royal (Lady Rich); Patricia Bardon (Countess of Essex); Brindley Sherratt (Blind Ballad Singer); Royal Op Ch & O • OPUS ARTE 1124 (2 DVDs: 163:00 + 12:00) Live: London 6/24/2013
Britten’s Aldeburgh; An Introduction to Britten’s Gloriana.
The concept behind Richard Jones’s stage production of Gloriana is this: The newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II is attending a (presumed) rehearsal of this opera, which was staged in 1953 to honor her coronation. Thus we see stagehands, extras, prop men, etc., puttering and wandering around on stage and on the sidelines. Characters in the opera receive last-minute makeup touches. Sets are whirled around in plain view and props are bolstered. But the whole thing looks really cheesy, like a poor stage production done by a high school. Many of the set’s props (particularly those meant to resemble furniture) look inexpensively cobbled together, as do the costumes. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a 15th-century courtier wearing dark blue underwear over bright blue tights, so that he almost resembles Superman. In addition, the farthingales on the costumes look wrong, and as I say, the whole thing looks as if it is almost purposely junky, for what reason or reasons I can’t tell. Nor was I much thrilled with the long line of what looked like British boy scouts in front of the stage, holding up signs to spell out the different royal lines (Windsor, Tudor, etc.) as various Royal personages walk onstage and strike poses. (I almost had the feeling that I was watching a cheerleading squad: “Two-four-six-eight! Which royal house is really great?”)
Beneath the surface patina of cheap-looking sets and costumes, however, is a very good and interesting performance of Britten’s much neglected “royal opera.” As it turns out, it’s a lot better than you might think from just listening to the music, which has the flashy sound of pageantry running throughout. Britten and his librettist, William Plomer, did a remarkably fine job delving into the history of the time, and thus brought out a lot more about the interpersonal relationships at Queen Elizabeth I’s court: the fierce rivalry between Essex and Lord Mountjoy, the insinuating and snide humor of Sir Walter Raleigh, the love affair between Mountjoy and Essex’s sister Penelope, and the personality of the aging Queen herself, trying to balance her reign over England with her personal attraction for the much younger (and inevitably treacherous) Essex. Perhaps less endearing to those of us who learned more than we wanted or needed to know of the British Royals in school, there are also some silly dances, including a galliard (actually well danced by the singers in the opera) and a dragged-out masque featuring Time and Concord (long and distracting). I’m sure these were part of Britten’s overall scheme to create a “festive occasion” opera that had touches of authenticity.
The singers are a mixed lot but generally good. Susan Bullock (Elizabeth) is a first-rate actress with an unfortunately squally and unpleasant-sounding voice. Kate Royal (Penelope), who a few years ago was being packaged and promoted as one of the greatest sopranos of her era, struck me as a decent stage actress whose voice is a shade too overripe with vibrato and also has poor diction. On the other hand, all the male singers are remarkably good, particularly Toby Spence as Essex and Mark Stone as Mountjoy, but also the high, silvery tenor of Andrew Tortise as “the Spirit of the Masque” and the excellent baritone Jeremy Carpenter as Sir Robert Cecil. All in all, then, the opera is cast very well from a histrionic standpoint and fairly well on the vocal side, and I must also praise the lively and energetic conducting of Paul Daniel.
So, in the end, I come down firmly in favor of this video. The reason is the very powerful and realistic (within the confines of stage acting, of course) portrayals of nearly all the principals, but particularly of Bullock as Elizabeth. As the opera progresses, you come to admire her as a stage actress more and more. By opera’s end, you feel shattered by her realistic and emotionally honest portrayal of the aging queen, torn between love and duty, and in the final denouement torn between compassion for Essex’s wife and children and utter contempt for his adulterous sister, whose demands that Elizabeth release him finally push her over to sign his death warrant.
One of the few moments in the opera I felt was musically dead was the song of the blind ballad singer. The tune Britten used, if you can call it that, is so slow and sepulchral, and accompanied by a (purposely) clunky, out-of-tune lute, that I couldn’t wait for him to stop. It also didn’t help that the singer, a tall, bald, and very deep bass, looked and sounded a bit too much like a cartoon zombie. All I kept thinking was that this guy wouldn’t even be able to hold down a job in a coffee shop; and yet, when the cast took their bows, this singer got a louder ovation than anyone else in the cast except for Spence and Bullock!
All things being equal, although I found the stage concept over-cluttered and annoying, I really liked this performance, and ultimately that’s what the experience is all about. If you’ve never seen a performance of Gloriana, or if you’ve seen one previously and didn’t like it, I think this one will win you over. It did for me.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley Read less
Works on This Recording
Gloriana, Op. 53 by Benjamin Britten
Brindley Sherratt (Bass),
Jeremy Carpenter (Baritone),
Mark Stone (Baritone),
Toby Spence (Tenor),
Susan Bullock (Soprano),
Patricia Bardon (Mezzo Soprano),
Kate Royal (Soprano),
Clive Bayley (Bass)
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1953; England
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