No sooner has the version of Britten’s Coronation opera with Josephine Barstow as Queen Elizabeth been issued on Opus Arte than ArtHaus restores to circulation this arresting ENO performance from 1984. It surpasses its rival by giving the score in its entirety, allowing us to hear what a dramatically varied and superbly crafted piece of work Britten’s opera has proved to be.
Indeed, it was this staging that conclusively restored the work to the repertory when directed with such utter conviction in Alix Stone’s and Graham’s evocative sets, and Stone’s proud costumes. Many fine singers graced the title-part over the years. Sarah Walker is among the foremost of them. Barstow is, of course, unforgettable, but Walker’s portrayal stands up to the comparison and, though a mezzo, she has no trouble with high-line passages.
At the time ENO still boasted fine ensembles. Every other member of the cast surpasses their Opera North counterparts: I think of Rolfe Johnson’s manly, hot-headed and finely sung Essex, Richard Van Allan’s menacing Raleigh, Jean Rigby’s moving Frances Essex, Alan Opie’s sly Cecil. Over all presides Mark Elder, projecting a grandly conceived yet subtle account of the whole score, played with acumen by the ENO orchestra. This is an experience of a great company in full flight and should not be missed.