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Richard E. Grant
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Benjamin Britten's music has been growing on me a lot over-time, and while not one of my favourite operas of his(Peter Grimes, Billy Budd and Albert Herring) it is an opera I wouldn't hesitate in hearing or seeing again. And this is a glorious production of it. It is not quite perfect though, while parts of it does help to heighten the drama the showing-the-singers-backstage-preparing-for-the-role gimmick(one that has been mixed in results for me) distracted from the music on the whole. Also, there is a slice-and-dice approach to the score. The Norwich Masque and Conspiracy scene omissions may tighten the drama somewhat, but other cuts have some of the opera's most beautiful moments or like the opening joust with Essex(in this scene in the opera he is more antagonistic) change our perceptions of the characters.
However, visually it is wonderful with sumptuous decor and costumes, and it is video directed as skillfully as you'd expect. The staging is often searing in power and moving. The orchestra play stylishly and musically, Paul Daniel's conducting brings out the nuances and power of the score very well and the chorus are well balanced vocally and acted. The lead performances are another great strength. Helped by Phyllida Lloyd's ability to maintain Elizabeth's humanity and our sympathy for her, Josephine Barstow gives a tour-De-force lead performance, oozing with regality and nobility and bringing command to all her vocal lines. Tom Randle is also brilliant as Essex, the voice is intelligently-used and he is a very attractive presence. Dramatically, he is unpredictable, charismatic and full of bravado while also conveying Essex's sweeter and more poetic side. David Ellis and Clive Bayley are likewise splendid as Mountjoy and Sir Walter Raleigh.
All in all, a glorious production of Britten's opera, brilliantly performed and very moving. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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