COMPOSERS: Benjamin Britten
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Gloriana
PERFORMER: Josephine Barstow, Tom Randle, Emer McGilloway, David Ellis, Susannah Glanville, Eric Roberts, Clive Bayley; Chorus of Opera North; English Northern Philharmonic/Paul Daniel; dir. Phyllida Lloyd (BBC TV, 1999)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0955 D
This is unquestionably among the finest opera films ever made.
Phyllida Lloyd’s Opera North staging vindicated this problematic piece, but the film she also directed – astonishingly, her first ever – takes it to new heights of intensity.
Time constraints necessitated swingeing cuts – the Norwich masque with its famous dances, the conspiracy scene – but comparing this with the worthy ENO video confirms that losing these propels and intensifies the action, focusing it closely on the protagonists. In an interview at the time, Lloyd told me that she’d become fascinated by the parallels between the opera and the grand show that was the Elizabethan court, and still more by Josephine Barstow’s extraordinary identification with the queen; her film merges both worlds with emotional punch, reinforced by the vivid recording.
Lloyd’s camera flows between stage and backstage, identifying stagehands with courtiers, on stage among the singers, looking down dizzyingly from the flies or even out across pit and audience.
This is not gimmickry; it captures the rhythm of the action and the changing scenes with exciting bartók String Quartets Nos 2, 3 & 6
Decca 074 3141 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic) 92 mins
String Quartets by Beethoven,
Schubert & Haydn
Decca 074 3140 (NTSC system; dts 5.1; 16:9 anamorphic) 124 mins
These two sublime DVDs give us the privilege of watching and hearing, or it seems more like overhearing, four great collaborating musicians recreating six of the most magnificent immediacy one moment, deep intimacy the next, staring mirrorclose into Barstow’s deeply expressive features, or echoing a frequent stage image showing Elizabeth caged by her role, as when her dressing-room walls turn translucent to betray the court ladies gossiping.
The fine ensemble cast survives such potentially cruel exposure through sheer involvement, notably Tom Randle, an ideally virile Essex. Also outstanding are Susanna Glanville’s Lady Rich, Eric Roberts’ Cecil and Clive Bayley’s sprightly Raleigh. Daniel conducts a vividly theatrical performance that banishes any hint of fustian or pastiche pageantry about this score.