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Michael White’s classical & jazz news: Gloriana; Acis and Galatea; Eileen Croxford Parkhouse

23 April, 2020 — By Michael White

Susan Bullock, Lake Laoutaris-Smith and Guilia Pazzaglia in Gloriana. PHOTO: CLIVE BARDA/ROH

AS the pain of having zero access to live music carries on, so do the quantities of filmed performances available to view completely free online, posted by orchestras and opera houses worldwide. And my chief recommendation this week is the Royal Opera House production of Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana, which you can watch any time from 7pm, Friday 24 on the ROH’s YouTube site.

If you don’t know Gloriana you won’t be alone – because it’s a sprawling, ceremonial piece that doesn’t often get done and tends to be dismissed, even by Britten devotees, as unviable. But they’re wrong.

A pageant-opera about Queen Elizabeth I, it was written for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II; and it’s true that the first performance, at a glittering royal gala in 1953, was poorly received. But that’s because the invited audience of the great and the good was expecting a cheerful romp like Merrie England and dismayed to find itself confronted with something more challenging. And though the applause was undoubtedly muted, it was made worse by the simple fact that everybody was in court dress – which in 1953 required you to wear gloves.

The truth is, Gloriana is a dazzling, tuneful although hard to pull off piece. And the joy of this Royal Opera staging by Richard Jones is that it finds a brilliantly clever way to do it – as a costume drama with the necessary frocks and frills, but avoiding the clichés of costume drama by presenting the whole thing in quotation marks. If I say more it will spoil the surprise. But you will be surprised. And charmed, delighted, totally won over. Promise.

• Talking of charm, the Royal Opera also has online, and free, its enchanting co-production with the Royal Ballet of Handel’s all-singing and dancing Acis and Galatea – impeccably delivered by the late conductor Christopher Hogwood, with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the pit. Adding some glamour is Danielle de Niese (now chatelaine of Glyndebourne) as the female lead.

Lovers of chamber music will be sad to know that last week saw the death of Eileen Croxford Parkhouse who, 30 years ago, set up the now-celebrated Parkhouse Awards in memory of her husband David.

David Parkhouse was a pianist, and the awards that bear his name are effectively a competition for chamber groups with piano. Over time they’ve helped launch the careers of countless ensembles. And if you visit their website, parkhouseaward.com, you’ll find a diverting collection of filmed performances by past winners – all of them young but many of promise.

Eileen herself was 96 at her death. It was a good age. And she leaves a legacy that will continue for a good while longer.

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