Although the English National Opera toured the U.S. with Benjamin Britten’s “Gloriana” in 1984, this Central City Opera production marks the first by a North American company. In the historic theater situated in the foothills 35 miles west of Denver, the company has mounted a glorious “Gloriana” that reveals the 1953 opera, written about Queen Elizabeth I to celebrate the coronation of Elizabeth II, to be the work of a master if not quite a masterwork.
In a beautifully wrought performance, Joyce Castle found both the imperiousness and the vulnerability of this towering, complex figure. She revealed the queen’s humanity in a perf of warmth and exuberance. Castle was also vocally ideally cast, with her regal mezzo and perfect diction.
Britten’s music includes marvelous fanfares and masques, and there is high drama in confrontations both amorous and hostile as the jockeying for court power excalates to the inevitable execution of Essex, Elizabeth’s beloved. Director Ken Kazan moved smoothly between pageantry and intimate scenes.
Gran Wilson’s Essex, regrettably, was one-dimensional. His act one serenade was charming and showed his light tenor to good advantage, but in general the performance was charmless and too insistent.
But there were splendid voices in the other major and minor roles. Grant Youngblood, as Lord Mountjoy, shows a notably fine baritone that put meat on a slender role. Timothy Noble brought a deep, resonant baritone to the role of Sir Robert Cecil, the queen’s adviser.
Hal France conducted with obvious admiration and gusto, keeping a welcome balance between pit and stage. Choral work was also superior, expecially magical in the masque.
Peter Harrison’s sets were best in their use of portraits of the queen, but a gauzy curtain became an irritant. Alice Marie Kugler Bristow’s costumes were marked by true splendor appropriate to the riches of the period.