Gloriana

CHRISTOPHER SMITH The 58th Aldeburgh Festival opened with the Maltings at Snape packed for a fine performance of Britten's opera, whose strengths and depths are now far more generally accepted.

CHRISTOPHER SMITH

The 58th Aldeburgh Festival opened with the Maltings at Snape packed for a fine performance of Britten's opera, whose strengths and depths are now far more generally accepted.

William Kerley's production is semi-staged. The Philharmonia Orchestra, at full-strength under Richard Hickox, occupies the centre of the stage. This means that every shade of colour in a rich score can be heard clearly. The historical plot is acted out on a platform of three sides of the instrumentalists and on a gallery high above them. Up there, a throne dominates the scene.

Cleverly lighted by Paul Pyant, this setting works well in its economical way. The only major drawback is some loss of dramatic intensity when the Earl of Essex thrusts his way into the Queen's apartment.

Unfortunately dancing is dispensed with too, though the Opera North chorus brings life to the masque set in Norwich Guildhall, with John Shirley-Quirk and James Gilchrist to evoke the grand spectacle.

Christine Brewer brings an impressive presence and a fine mezzo voice to the huge role of Queen Elizabeth, conveying a personality whose awareness of regal duty adds to private suffering. Half a score of other characters create a vivid human context for her moving interpretation.

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