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Towards a Mechanics of Voice for Plomer and Britten's 'Gloriana'


Critical writing on Gloriana, Benjamin Britten's opera for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II with a libretto by William Plomer, has typically focused on issues tied to its premiere and subsequent reception and, less frequently, on how the opera represents Britten's concerns, his 'voice'. This essay considers two ways that Britten might be said to project his 'voice' in the opera: 'textural emphasis', the highlighting and obscuring of lines from the libretto, and 'instrumental commentary', orchestral interpolations not suggested in the libretto. Both techniques point to Britten's retention of words in a musical environment that seems to undermine them, an arrangement that allows for the perception of internal authorial dissent. By exploring a number of specific moments of disagreement between words and music in Gloriana, a pattern of compositional approaches emerges, and it becomes possible to propose a mechanics of how voice is produced in the opera.