Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana, a three-act opera about Queen Elizabeth I’s struggles with duty versus love for the Earl of Essex, had its premiere during the celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. At its 2012-13 season unveiling, yesterday, the Royal Opera House announced that it will mount a new production in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The six performances are to take place between June 20 and July 6, 2013. Cinemas around the world that screen Royal Opera productions will get a chance to show the June 24 performance.
The director is Richard Jones. The great soprano Susan Bullock, who we saw in Toronto for the Canadian Opera Company’s Ring Cycle, gets the title role. Toby Spence sings Essex, a role Britten wrote for his partner, Peter Pears. It’s a great cast that also includes mezzo Kate Royal as Penelope. Paul Daniel will conduct.
William Plomer’s episodic libretto, based on Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Spencer, focuses on a queen conflicted between her duties and her heart. Duty wins. Britten’s music beautifully illustrates the conflict, sometimes in subtle ways.
Critics and the young Elizabeth II were, apparently, not impressed that such emotional messiness should be laid bare on a happy occasion. But, with 60 years of conflict between private and public having swirled about Elizabeth II since, the opera has managed to look better with each passing decade.
The new production is also a way for the Royal Opera House to mark the centenary of Britten’s birth.
In its online news report, the BBC makes it sound like Gloriana has been buried for the last six decades. It has, in fact, had several productions since Britten revised it in 1966, including one at the Royal Opera House in the 1980s.
There’s a fabulous Opera North production, adapted for film in 2000, directed by Phyllida Lloyd (of Iron Lady and Mamma Mia! fame) and conducted by Daniel that is a must see on DVD (info here).
The Lute Songs (Essex trying to woo Elizabeth) and Courtly Dances long ago took on lives of their own.
Here’s an introduction to some of the wonders this great piece of musical theatre:
The opening scene (note the turbulent music in the foreground versus the offstage fanfare) of Gloriana from an English National Opera production that was presented at the Metropolitan Opera in 1984. Sarah Walker is Elizabeth:
The second lute song (credits are on the video):
The second Courtly Dance, sung in Paris by Les Métaboles, conducted by Léo Warynski:
Most of the searing final scene: