Did you know that the opera Gloriana was commissioned by Covent Garden as a part of the celebrations for Queen, Elizabeth II’s the coronation?
It was the composer’s eighth opera with libretto based on Lytton Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex and depicted Queen Elizabeth I as a woman torn between her sense of duty as the monarch and her love for Essex.
The Queen attended the first performance at Covent Garden six days after the coronation but was said to have been unimpressed by the opera. And she wasn’t alone. Criticism was aimed at the way that the opera highlighted the Queen’s frailties, her personal relationship with the Earl of Essex, and the intrigues and jealousies at Court. It was thought that the persona of Queen Elizabeth I of England should have been portrayed in a more regal way. Britten was also criticised for choosing to close the opera with the spoken word, rather than musically.
Britten felt “kicked around” by the general lack of enthusiasm for Gloriana and, in contrast to his other operas, there has since been relatively few productions of this opera.
The Courtly Dances appear in the third scene of Act II and were subsequently made into a Suite. Britten’s score mixes the sounds and manners of Tudor England – from lute songs to courtly dances – with the composer’s own distinctive style.
Come and hear us play the Suite in our “In Disguise” Camden children’s concert.