Elizabeth, Royal Ballet, ROH Linbury Studio, Covent Garden, January 2016

This ballet on the life and loves of Elizabeth I, originally shown in 2013 at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, is now making a well deserved appearance at the Royal Opera House. It is a remarkable creation by Will Tuckett, with text and co-direction by Alasdair Middleton, and music by Martin Yates.

All images ROH/ Andrej Uspenski

Yates has put together a set of variations on works by composers active in the Elizabethan period, beautifully played on the cello by Raphael Wallfisch and sung by baritone David Kempster, along with contributions by the actors. The merging of choreography and acting, of singing and speech, creates a vehicle to get behind the veil of monarchy to the private life of Elizabeth herself, superbly performed by Zenaida Yanowsky, with Carlos Acosta a terrific dramatic presence in the various male roles.

He appears first as Sir Nicholas Throckmorton delivering news of the death of Queen Mary her half-sister, then as her favourites: Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Robert Devereux the Earl of Essex. There are pas-de-deux, solos and even an entertaining sex scene between Raleigh and one of the Maids of Honour. This engaging fellow, whose “Fain would I climb, but fear to fall” receives the immediate response “If thy heart fail thee then climb not at all”, is raised to prominence by the queen but his affair with one of her maids is his undoing.

Queen and Duke of Anjou

Queen and Duke of Anjou

The wayward behaviour of the three Englishmen forms a contrast with the regality and sincerity of the queen, though her sense of fun (“she loved little dolls, singing birds, parrots and apes”) finds a focus in her apparent love for Francis Duke of Anjou, twenty years her junior. Her little “frog” as she called him, portrayed by Acosta as a fool before growing into manliness at her warm appreciation of his eccentricities, is well placed at the half-way point where it lends a gentle touch to the story.

3.Elizabeth. Zenaida Yanowsky, Carlos Acosta ©ROH, 2016. Photographed by Andrej Uspenski (3)Middleton’s wonderful text, based on contemporary writings, is delivered as if spoken by the dancers themselves. The seamless unity of expression for actors, singers and dancers is something opera directors occasionally try to achieve, but at which they always fail. Here it succeeds most beautifully, and if tickets become available do not hesitate.

Along with Zenaida Yanowsky, Carlos Acosta and baritone David Kempster, the actors Laura Caldow, Julia Righton and Sonya Cullingford performed together as a superb team. Fine costumes by Fay Fullerton, and wonderfully subtle changes of lighting by Paule Constable, helped bring the sixteenth century to life in a cleverly adapted Linbury Studio. A better 90 minutes of entertainment and edification can hardly be found anywhere in London. Riveting.

Performances with the same cast continue almost every day until January 17 — for details click here.

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