Britten, Gloriana, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Kathryn Harries, Jean Rigby, Richard Van Allan, English National Opera, Lionel Friend (1984, DVD released on October 31, 2006)
My disappointment with the opera's conclusion stands: Britten made a mistake by having Elizabeth give speeches some of the most emotional moments in the final scene. The wonderful tension he has built up throughout the libretto -- an aging queen beset with the cares of state and the intrigues of younger men vying for her attention, and then forced to destroy the only love she has known -- is deflated as soon as Elizabeth starts to talk. Furthermore, this does not help a generally unflattering portrait of Elizabeth I (probably one of the reasons why the opera was not revived in 2003, for the present monarch's 50th anniversary). William Plomer’s libretto was adapted from Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex, in which Strachey characterized the queen as someone who had to be cold and cynical because of her position: “In reality, she succeeded by virtue of all the qualities which every hero should be without—dissimulation, pliability, indecision, procrastination, parsimony . . . she had survived because she had been able to meet the extremes around her with her own extremes of cunning and prevarication.”
Film by Phyllida Lloyd, with Josephine Barstow (2000)
Mezzo-soprano Jean Rigby will come to Washington next month, to sing a concert with the Nash Ensemble of London (March 20), including the world premiere of a new piece by David Matthews and Stravinsky's Three Songs from William Shakespeare.