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Gloriana

Gloriana 9 June 1953, Royal Opera House

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The Earl of Harewood, whose collection this performance is drawn from, has described the first night of Gloriana as one of the great disasters of operatic history. The audience…applauded if at all with their kid gloves on and the press…gathered next day to castigate composer, performance and choice…it was clear that some sort of simple-minded glorification was what had been expected, not the passionate, tender drama…that Britten had contrived.

And yet one of the most perspicacious voices of music criticism swam against the tide: Andrew Porter, in Music and Letters, wrote that Gloriana is a work of great imagination and power…an opera remarkable for its truth to history, for its effect in the theatre and for the unfailing interest of its music.

Posterity has (mostly) been on Porter s side, even if contemporary interest swings more to the intimate tragedy of Britten s next opera, The Turn of the Screw, than to the ceremonial aspects of what was, after all, a ceremonial commission to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Here is finally the chance for listeners and cultural historians to judge for themselves. The Britten scholar Arnold Whittall remarks in the booklet notes: What we now hear has far more confidence and sheer physical power than later comments by the singers lead you to expect, and much credit was evidently due to the conductor John Pritchard, who showed no signs of playing safe on such an auspicious occasion.