Had the great good fortune last night to attend a performance of Benjamin Britten‘s “Gloriana” at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. A wholly gripping performance from start to finish, beautifully conducted by Steuart Bedford (for whom Britten is second nature). Queen Elizabeth I was wonderfully characterized by Christine Brewer, a performance that deservedly received an enthusiastic standing ovation. Just as fine was Brandon Jovanovich as Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex. His portrayal of what was essentially a barely competent hot-head who, through passion and good looks captivated his queen, was a well-considered contrast to that of the Queen, for whom statecraft and loyalty to her country was paramount. There were no weak links in the supporting cast either, and the chorus and dancers were superb.
Considering I had been looking forward to this opera for a year with high expectations, there was most definitely the danger that it would not match them. Happily, this did not come to pass.
I had played the Mackerras recording of “Gloriana” a couple of times shortly before seeing the opera, and I am very glad I did. The music of “Gloriana” is essentially a mid 20th century reworking of Elizabethan styles, and is much more 20th century than Elizabethan (the opera was written in the early 1950s, before the move to ‘authentic’ performance styles became popular). Consequently, there were thematic and harmonic components that owe much to post-Wagnerian opera, and it was fun following those through the performance. Britten’s musical voice is determinedly his own, and it is one that I find highly attractive. Despite its conservative veneer, it never seems hackneyed nor sounds dated in any way. In many ways it sounds a lot more modern than much music of today that falls into the Neo-Romantic style.