LENNOX BERKELEY (1903-1989): Nelson.
Catalogue Number: 06W009
Description: Berkeley's sumptuous opera on the subject of the British Admiral was a great success when first performed - multiple times - in the 1950s, but fell out of fashion until its revival in the 1980s, which included this studio broadcast. The music's effortless lyricism, melodic memorability and rich Romantic vocabulary are both typical of Berkeley, and represented to the highest degree in this work; the composer’s elegant gentility is never absent in his work, and is appropriate to his aristocratic subject, but here he mined a vein of ample emotional passion only encountered in his finest music. The plot centers on Nelson's scandalous, adulterous relationship with Emma, Lady Hamilton, and its effect on the people around them (emotionally devastated, scandalised, or at least regarding the affair as a serious lapse in judgment, while the infatuated couple remain oblivious to the potential consequences or the opinions of others). This gives great scope for the arias and ensemble pieces of traditional opera seria, and the influence of Berkeley's acknowledged operatic hero and model, Verdi, is unmistakable. If this sounds like an oddly domestic portrayal of a great naval hero, the dramatic arc of the opera leads surely to the final scene, which portrays the triumphant sailing of the HMS Victory, the strained, fated parting of the lovers, and the battle of Trafalgar, in two orchestral interludes and two scenes of chaos and heartfelt tragedy surrounding Nelson's death, which have the power of a dramatic cantata within the opera and provide a fitting climax to the work. 2 CDs. Synopsis included. David Johnston (tenor), Eiddwen Harrhy (soprano), Brian Rayner Cook (baritone), Elizabeth Bainbridge (mezzo), BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra; Elgar Howarth (studio recording, broadcast Oct. 23, 1983).