Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Will Don Quichotte Be the Last Production at San Diego Opera?

This quotation from Cervantes was displayed before the opening of the opera’s final scene:

“The greatest madness a man can commit in this life is to let himself die, just like that, without anybody killing him or any other hands ending his life except those of melancholy.”

Gound Faust - Calleja and Terfel, Royal Opera House London

Gounod's Faust makes a much welcomed return to the Royal Opera House. With each new cast, the dynamic changes as the balance between singers shifts and brings out new insights. In that sense, every revival is an opportunity to revisit from new perspectives. This time Bryn Terfel sang Méphistophélès, with Joseph Calleja as Faust - stars whose allure certainly helped fill the hall to capacity. And the audience enjoyed a very good show.

Syracuse Opera’s Porgy and Bess
Got Plenty O’ Plenty

The company ends its 2013-14 season on a high note with a staged performance of Gershwin’s theatrical masterpiece

A New Rusalka in Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production of Antonin Dvorak’s Rusalka is visually impressive and fulfills all possible expectations musically with unquestioned excitement.

Karlsruhe’s Mixed Blessing Ballo

The reliable Badisches Staatstheater has assembled plenty of talent for its new Un Ballo in Maschera.

Louise Alder, Wigmore Hall

This varied, demanding programme indisputably marked soprano Louise Alder as a name to watch.

Luke Bedford: Through His Teeth, Linbury, Royal Opera House

Can this be the best British opera in years? Luke Bedford’s Through His Teeth at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre is exceptional. Drop everything and go.

Powder Her Face, ENO

As one descends the steel steps into the cavernous bunker of Ambika P3, one seems about to enter rather insalubrious realms — just right one might imagine, then, for an opera which delves into the depths of the seedier side of celebrity life.

Iphigénie Fascinates in the Pfalz

Kaiserslautern’s Pfalztheater has produced a tantalizing realization of Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide, characterized by intriguing staging, appealing designs, and best of all, superlative musical standards.

ROH presents Cavalli’s L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London

Never thought I’d say it but......

Harrison Birtwistle, Elliott Carter, Wigmore Hall, London

Celebrating the 80th birthday of one of the UK's greatest composers (if not the greatest), this concert was an intriguing, and not always stimulating, mix. Birtwistle with Carter makes sense, but Birtwistle with Adams does not - or at least only within the remit of the concert series. The concert was actually entitled “Nash Inventions: American and British Masterworks, including an 80th Birthday Tribute to Sir Harrison Birtwistle” and was the final concert in the “Inventions” series.

Requiem for a Lost Opera Company

On Wednesday, March 19, 2014, General Director Ian Campbell of San Diego Opera announced that the company would go out of business at the end of this season. The next day the company performed their long-planned Verdi Requiem with a stellar cast including soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, tenor Piotr Beczala, and bass Ferruccio Furlanetto.

The Met’s Werther a tasty mix of singing, staging, acting and orchestral splendor

Visual elements in Richard Eyre’s striking production offset Massenet’s melodic shortcomings

Chicago’s New Barber of Seville

New productions of repertoire staples such as Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia bear much anticipation for both performers and staging.

Lucia in LA: A Performance to Remember

On March 15, 2014, Los Angeles Opera presented Elkhanah Pulitzer’s production of the opera, which she set in 1885 when women were beginning to be recognized as persons separate from their fathers, brothers and husbands. At that time many European countries were beginning to allow women to own property, obtain higher education, and choose their husbands.

San Diego Opera Presents an All Star Ballo in Maschera

On March 11, 2014, San Diego Opera presented Verdi’s A Masked Ball in a traditional production by Leslie Koenig. Metropolitan Opera star tenor Piotr Beczala was Gustav III, the king of Sweden, and Krassimira Stoyanova gave an insightful portrayal of Amelia, his troubled but innocent love interest.

Anne Schwanewilms, Wigmore Hall

From the moment she walked, resplendent in red, onto the Wigmore Hall platform, Anne Schwanewilms radiated a captivating presence — one that kept the audience enthralled throughout this magnificent programme of Romantic song.

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

Magnificent! Following the first night of this new production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, I quipped that I could forgive an opera house anything for musical performance at this level, whether orchestral, vocal, or, in this case, both.

La Fille du regiment, Royal Opera

Donizetti’s opera comique La Fille du regiment returned to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, for its third revival.

Schoenberg and company

With Schoenberg, I tend to take every opportunity I can — at least since my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, when understandably I chose to see Figaro over Boulez conducting Moses und Aron, though I have rued the loss ever since.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I [Photo © ROH / Clive Barda]
22 Jun 2013

Britten’s Gloriana, Covent Garden

A glance at the ROH programme which accompanies this new production of Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana reveals a striking number of ‘role débuts’; evidence that, since its Coronation-commissioned revelation in 1953, this opera has had a relatively quiet 60 years - hyperbolically announced as ‘one of the great disasters of operatic history’ at its troubled opening.

Britten’s Gloriana, Covent Garden

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Susan Bullock as Queen Elizabeth I

Photos © ROH / Clive Barda

 

Now, in 2013, as our reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, celebrates a lifetime devoted to her realm, director Richard Jones transports us back to the beginning, to a village hall - the Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh? - reconstructing (deconstructing?) the opening night of the opera which announced a new Elizabethan age with a re-visitation of the first regal Elizabeth’s glories and shortcomings.

Initially we are confronted with the simple exterior of a theatre. A dignitary paces impatiently beneath the royal crest and flag which adorns the façade, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the royal party; Queen and consort enter, slightly bemused by the cultural offering bestowed in their honour. The ‘fourth wall’ is lifted to reveal an unsophisticated platform; prompter, janitor, curtain hoister and bell-ringer loiter with anticipation in the wings. The orchestral prologue commences, visually illustrated by a perfectly choreographed reverse parade through British monarchical history - faultlessly in keeping with current Conservative-party educational policy - until we arrive at the first age of Elizabethan magnificence and mal-contentment. In a brisk sweep - reminiscent of the gallery of ancestral portraits illuminated by the Prologue to Owen Wingrave - Richard Jones makes a virtue of the opera’s potential cause for irritation - its whimsicality and twee ‘Merrie England-ishness’.

Henceforth, all sentimental, mawkish, am-dram naff-ness is viewed through a knowingly ironic filter - which, in fact, perfectly complements the parodies and self-parodies of Britten’s score. Thus, the Act 1 joust presents a pantomime horse, dipping and diving, as a disgruntled Earl of Essex (Toby Spence) enviously espies the equestrian triumphs of Lord Mountjoy (Mark Stone) - soon to be reveal resplendent in eye-watering Queen-Bee zig-zags - by peering over a mock-brick wall at the ceremonial contest. As the imperial Elizabeth progresses through her realm, the various venues which receive the regal company are signposted by a gaggle of grey-uniformed public school-boys, whose thrust-aloft placards announce our successive locations.

Ultz’s designs and the eye-watering complementary colour schemes of Mimi Jordan Sherin’s lighting scheme emphasise both power and transience, from the outsized wooden throne placed centre-stage, to the iconographical pictorialism of the inner chamber - all skulls, scrolls, leather-bound learned manuscripts and lutes.

Amid this symbolic landscape, the cast are uniformly outstanding in presenting a narrative of conflicting loyalties and self-destructive betrayals.

At the heart of it all is Susan Bullock’s Gloriana, magnificently divine yet painfully human, every word of text used with intelligence and creativity to simultaneously win our sympathies and earn our censures. Exposed in Act 3 by Essex’s untimely and improper arrival and intrusion, balding, dishevelled and defenceless, she retains an essential dignity. Lonely and unaided, bullied by the unequivocal pronouncements of her courtiers into signing the death warrant of her paramour, Bullock’s Gloriana agonisingly disintegrates, much like Grimes or Vere; all that remains to console are fragments and memories, as the curtain which slowly closes on the isolated monarch announces her alienation and mortality. The spoken text powerfully announces her diminution and creative diminishment and defeat.

GLORIANA-130617_2002.gifKate Royal as Lady Rich, Toby Spence as Essex, Patricia Bardon as Countess of Essex, Mark Stone as Lord Mountjoy

Toby Spence makes a credibly sympathetic figure of the solipsistic Essex, full of a vigorous vitality which is undermined by maudlin melancholy. After serious health concerns, Spence is almost back to his best. Albeit weak and unpredictable, Essex’s devotion to the Queen is not in doubt. By turns tender, ebullient and defiant, Spence’s Essex is petulant, querulous but also truthful, winning our heart with his delicately expressive, self-revelatory second lute song, ‘Happy were we’, while arousing our distrust by - a theatrical masterstroke by Jones - surreptitiously and presumptuously usurping the unoccupied throne, when the royal party has departed after the ceremonial entertainments which close Act 2. The rapid blackout exacerbates our unease regarding his audacious intentions.

It is quite a trial for the singers to bring credibility and roundedness to librettist William Plomer’s rather one-dimension ‘puppets’, but the cast rises impressively to the challenge. Jeremy Carpenter’s Lord Cecil is the emblem of gravity and stateliness; the guarded confidence between the Queen and her ‘trusty elf’ is complemented by a Machiavellian manipulation, most particularly in the Act 3 ‘Cecil’s Warning’, as the influential Lord cunningly persuades his monarch to repel her former devotee.

Mark Stone’s Lord Mountjoy is buoyantly self-congratulatory; yet, casting pride aside, he pleads sincerely for his rival, before Frances Devereux, Essex’s sister, (Patricia Bardon) gently but futilely beseeches the Queen to show clemency and compassion. Kate Royal is a convincing Lady Penelope Rich - opinionated yet without fraudulence, pleading desperately for leniency for Essex before a hostile and unforgiving monarch, before succumbing to more histrionic outpourings in the Epilogue. In the cameo role of the Blind Ballad-singer, Brindley Sherratt is ironically Beckmesserian.

There is no evading the fact that Britten’s episodic second Act lacks dramatic momentum. The pastiche, albeit clever and effortless, serves to flatter its creator’s facility rather than to further the drama (the former is foregrounded by, for example, the harpist’s visibility in the wings during the lute songs). The lengthy sequence of theatrical rituals and dances, while flamboyantly stylistic, are ultimately static and somewhat sterile. In this context, the villagers’ vegetable mosaic, designed to celebrate regal fruitfulness and profligacy, is appropriately humdrum.

Yet, Jones’ presentation of the masque of Time and Concord is, as rudimentary moon and sun are heaved aloft from the wings, elementary but honest; similarly, Lucy Burge’s choreography produces stylised but touching performances from dancers Lake Laoutaris-Smith and Giulia Pazzaglia. The choral dances which end the Act are vigorous and energising, Spence et al matching the lusty leaps and bounds of the professional athletes.

Off-stage or on-stage, the ROH chorus are splendidly resplendent and resonant. The idolatrous ‘Green leaves are we’ chorus which permeates the score is heartfelt and warming. Conductor Paul Daniel is well-served by his woodwind players, whose expressive nuances communicates the underlying drama with virtuosity and insight, just as the whole instrumental ensemble conjures both bright majesty in the scenes of public ceremony and dark unrest when their dynamic surges represented the inner turbulences of the troubled Queen.

Jones has totally captured the antagonistic energies of this opera. Unease and imbalance characterise both dynamic relationships and structural organisation, as public and private are opposed but never reconciled. Condemned as ‘not a Great Britten’ at its first appearance, Jones convinces us that - despite its flaws - this is a Glorious Gloriana.

Claire Seymour


Cast and production information:

Earl of Essex: Toby Spence; Henry Cuffe: Benjamin Bevan; Lord Mountjoy: Mark Stone; Elizabeth I: Susan Bullock; Sir Walter Raleigh: Clive Bayley; Sir Robert Cecil: Jeremy Carpenter; Recorder of Norwich: Jeremy White; Spirit of the Masque: Andrew Tortise; Time: Lake Laoutaris-Smith’ Concord: Ciulia Pazzaglia; Penelope Lady Rich: Kate Royal; Frances Devereux: Patricia Bardon; Blind Ballad Singer: Brindley Sherratt; Conductor: Paul Daniel; Director: Richard Jones; Designs: Ultz; Lighting Design: Mimi Jordan Sherin; Choreography: Lucy Burge. Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Thursday 20th June 2013

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):