Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Britten - Gloriana / Josephine Barstow Tom Randle Emer|
Actors: Josephine Barstow, Tom Randle, David Ellis, Susannah Glanville, Emer McGilloway
Genres: Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
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... more »
How to Make a (Brilliant) Film out of an Opera
Kevin Salfen | Texas, USA | 09/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The brash and youthful Earl of Essex prepares to play the lute at the Queen's request but completely misjudges her mood and sings "Quick music is best." Watching a stage production, we would be hard-pressed not to look at the performer, Essex. However, Phyllida Lloyd, the director of this remarkable film of Plomer and Britten's Gloriana, elects to keep Essex out of focus, in the background, incidental. Our concentration is fixed wholly on the Queen, who agitatedly reads through a report on the gathering Spanish armada and furrows her brow at her favorite's fundamental ignorance of the burden of rulership.
In just this manner, in scene after carefully crafted scene, Lloyd has refashioned Gloriana--which in Plomer and Britten's hands had turned on the Queen's struggle with Essex--into the story of Elizabeth I's inner life. What emerges is a reflection on the loneliness necessitated by wielding power, on the conflicting demands of the heart and the head, and on the shattering recognition of the approach of death.
It is less than the original. As another reviewer has noted, a significant amount of the opera has been excised: the opening joust, the Queen's Progress of Act II with the beautiful "Choral Dances" (though there is much precedent for cutting these, despite their extra-operatic popularity), the second scene of Act II where Essex and friends conspire against Elizabeth, and the second scene of Act III in which Essex's followers lead a failed revolt through the streets of London. Do these cuts take away from the opera? Of course they do, and moreover they completely change our view of Elizabeth, of Essex, and crucially of the "English people" represented by the chorus. Whereas in the opera, Essex's perspective is the first we see, in the film it is Elizabeth's. Lloyd will leave no question about the subject and no room for Essex to steal the spotlight. Whereas in the opera, Essex's antagonistic presence is made known from the opening bars of the joust, in the film almost all evidence of his mounting inner rebellion are erased. Lloyd gives him no inner life beyond that required for him to serve as a facet of the Queen's world. Whereas in the opera, the Queen's choice between a public or private life is manifested in her choice between the people or Essex, in the film the chorus serves as a musical backdrop. Lloyd never grants it the camera time to hold our interest or to encourage our self-identification. All that to say these are the things the film is not, and taken together they are more than ample reason to explore the full opera, available in the fine 1993 recording on Argo with Charles Mackerras conducting (with the same superior Elizabeth played by Josephine Barstow, though the rest of the cast differs).
It is also more than the original. What Phyllida Lloyd has captured with this film challenges us so boldly while never losing sight of the humanity of its central character that it thoroughly commands enraptured attention from first to last shot. In adapting Gloriana for film, the director Lloyd has herself become Elizabeth: her perspective governs the viewer, and despite the often painful sacrifices she has made, in the end she wins our sympathy and respect.
Of course, none of this could have been done were it not for Josephine Barstow as Elizabeth. She fills every inch of this titan's role with a nobility lacking arrogance, a tragedy lacking bathos. Surely this is one of the most finely acted performances of opera on film, easily on par with the Placido Domingo of Zeffirelli's Otello and the menacing Ruggero Raimondi of Losey's Don Giovanni. Many of the other performers are also very good, and three cheers to Tom Randle as Essex for keeping to the score for the most part ("Her conditions are as crooked as her carcass!" is a notable exception, which is converted from a set of pitches into a gesture, but at least the gesture works!). One might take exception to the occasionally uneven sound, a result of sometimes filming in the studio, where the vocalists were asked to sing to a pre-recorded orchestral track, but again the CD recording is there to satisfy the audiophile. On the other hand, a welcome bonus on the DVD can be found in the set of three "making of" pieces featuring interviews with the director, conductor Paul Daniel, Barstow and Randle.
Finally, I cannot heap enough praise on the brilliance of Barstow's performance and Lloyd's visionary production. I can only hope that a greater number of directors will aspire to this level of sincerity and creativity when making films out of operas.
An Extraordinarily Dramatic and Effective 'Gloriana'
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 09/09/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is not, as you might expect, simply the filming of a stage performance. It is, in fact, a film in which the stage performance is the major part but not the only part of its substance. We get Phyllida Lloyd's staging of 'Gloriana' at Opera North as the heart of the film but we also get many backstage scenes interspersed as well (perhaps a throwback to Ingmar Bergman's approach in his film of 'The Magic Flute'), with a focus on Josephine Barstow, on-stage and off, in her preparation for and performance of the role of Elizabeth I in which she is so stunningly effective, both vocally and dramatically. (I might be mistaken, but I think this production was Dame Josephine's last major stage portrayal.) The staged production received well-deserved raves in its day and after the film's airing on BBC-TV it received an International Emmy as well.
Lloyd, with the cooperation of conductor Paul Daniel, did major surgery on the opera. She omitted, for instance, the scenes of the Norwich Masque and the conspiracy scene in the Essex House garden. This tightens the action and contributes to its being a dramatically powerful presentation. The cast, especially Barstow as Elizabeth and Tom Randle as Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, are perfect in their portrayals. It is easy to see how Elizabeth may have fallen for Essex (although that is only hinted at in the opera) because Randle is an immensely attractive man and a powerful actor, as well as having a Peter Pears-like tenor that he uses with skill. To be honest, this is one of the few historically-based operas I have watched with bated breath because of the power of the drama. And I was surprised at this because my opinion of the opera gained from an audio recording (also featuring Barstow and conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras) had not entirely commanded my interest. Sets and costumes are resplendent. Musical values are all one could ask for. It is the combination of visual and musical values that makes this such a wonderful piece and this DVD a wonderful experience.
Others in the cast who deserve mention include David Ellis as Lord Mountjoy, Clive Bayley as Sir Walter Raleigh and the marvelous chorus of Opera North.
A definite recommendation.
Region 2 warning is wrong
Robert Spofford | San Rafael, CA USA | 11/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Amazon's warning on this listing that it is Region 2 (i.e. won't play on most US players) is wrong! Like most opera DVDs, this one is Region 0, which means it plays in all regions, and NTSC - the North American video system.
This is a wonderful disc, and I hate to think Amazon is inadvertantly scaring of buuyers with this bogus warning. Opera discs need all the sales thay can get!"
SCENES FROM GLORIANA
Charles D. novak | minneapolis, minnesota USA | 09/18/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've never been a big fan of operas turned into movies - the Gotz Friedrich film of ELECTRA being the big exception - and I'm totally against anyone who has the audacity of toying with the score of the composer. I guess the director of GLORIANA - Phyllida Lloyd - didn't trust the opera she was paid to direct and decided to put goether her own version, making huge cuts in Britten's composition. Her gimmick of showing scenes going on backstage during the performance was annoying and totally distracted from the music. But all of these concerns are mute when you see and hear the performance of Josephine Barstow as Queen Elizabeth I. I can't imagine Callas' legendary performance as TOSCA at Covent Garden being any better then what Barstow offers vocally and visually in this roll. If for no other reason, buy this DVD just to have this performance of a life time at your finger tips which I'm sure you will watch over and over again. Britten's music is immediately accessible which will only make you wish you could hear the entire score. Franco Zeffirelli made the same blunder when he turned Verdi's OTELLO into a film and decided to leave out the entire ensemble that brings down the curtain on the third act. Never mind it was one of the best pieces of music that Verdi ever wrote. Let's hope this slice and dice approach isn't contagious to other operas in the planning stages."