Let trumpets blow

A new recording of Britten’s Gloriana is to be welcomed, even when it’s less than perfect.  It’s an unusual work for Britten.  It’s very grand.  The orchestra is large and the music doesn’t seem to be as transparent and detailed as much of his work.  This is especially true in Act 1 where I almost wondered whether Britten was sending up “grand opera”.  It’s also a grand opera sort of plot.  The libretto is based on Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex and deals with the late life romance between the queen and the young Robert Devereux, earl of Essex and deputy in Ireland.  It has some fine moments; notably the lute songs in Act 2 and the choral dances in Act 2.  Act 3 is also dramatically quite effective; dealing with Essex’ abortive rebellion and execution.  Curiously, in the final scene, Britten resorts to a lot of spoken dialogue, as he does briefly with Balstrode’s admonition in Peter Grimes.  It’s almost as if he has no musical vocabulary for the highest emotional states; a sort of anti-Puccini.

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