This is not, as you might expect, simply the filming of a stage performance. It is, in fact, a film in which the stage performance is the major part but not the only part of its substance. We get Phyllida Lloyd's staging of 'Gloriana' at Opera North as the heart of the film but we also get many backstage scenes interspersed as well (perhaps a throwback to Ingmar Bergman's approach in his film of 'The Magic Flute'), with a focus on Josephine Barstow, on-stage and off, in her preparation for and performance of the role of Elizabeth I in which she is so stunningly effective, both vocally and dramatically. (I might be mistaken, but I think this production was Dame Josephine's last major stage portrayal.) The staged production received well-deserved raves in its day and after the film's airing on BBC-TV it received an International Emmy as well.
Lloyd, with the cooperation of conductor Paul Daniel, did major surgery on the opera. She omitted, for instance, the scenes of the Norwich Masque and the conspiracy scene in the Essex House garden. This tightens the action and contributes to its being a dramatically powerful presentation. The cast, especially Barstow as Elizabeth and Tom Randle as Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, are perfect in their portrayals. It is easy to see how Elizabeth may have fallen for Essex (although that is only hinted at in the opera) because Randle is an immensely attractive man and a powerful actor, as well as having a Peter Pears-like tenor that he uses with skill. To be honest, this is one of the few historically-based operas I have watched with bated breath because of the power of the drama. And I was surprised at this because my opinion of the opera gained from an audio recording (also featuring Barstow and conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras) had not entirely commanded my interest. Sets and costumes are resplendent. Musical values are all one could ask for. It is the combination of visual and musical values that makes this such a wonderful piece and this DVD a wonderful experience.
Others in the cast who deserve mention include David Ellis as Lord Mountjoy, Clive Bayley as Sir Walter Raleigh and the marvelous chorus of Opera North.
A definite recommendation.