The 1953 Coronation Week galas included Covent Garden's world premiere of Benjamin Britten's Gloriana
. But instead of a feel-good Olde England spectacle glorifying the first Queen Elizabeth they got an opera about a royal court riven by intrigues, a treasonous lover, and an aging, lonely monarch who must rule her passions in order to rule her kingdom. The opera's full of brilliant, inventive music and moving emotions. It requires a Queen equal to a role that demands great acting and great singing and Josephine Barstow is just such a Queen. She embodies the part with such overwhelming intensity it's hard to imagine anyone else in it. Her voice may have lost some of its lustre, but the toll time has taken only makes her performance more riveting. This DVD is a must-have for Barstow alone. The others in the cast are quite good; tenor Tom Randle is a fiery Essex and Clive Bayley's oily Sir Walter Raleigh is excellent, among many others deserving of mention. Conductor Paul Daniel leads an exciting performance, despite a few questionable tempos.
But director Phyllida Lloyd's transformation of a staged opera to film will be controversial, as will the brutal cuts she makes to more single-mindedly focus on the Queen and her interior conflicts. Thus, what we see is not what Britten intended, but instead a valid interpretation of the opera by a skilled director. Still, the music is compromised by her approach, which blends onstage performance film and studio scenes in which singers match their parts to piped-in orchestral accompaniments with backstage, handheld camera shots showing performers changing costume and bantering among themselves as Britten's music plays. It's exciting video, but more valuable as a supplement to the complete staged opera than as your sole Gloriana. --Dan Davis
Josephine Barstow and Tom Randle star in this film version of the Britten opera with Paul Daniel conducting the English Northern Philharmonia and Chorus of Opera North. Extras include cast gallery cast interviews.