CLASSICAL MUSIC / Where words fail: Bayan Northcott reflects on the ambiguities behind a new anthology of (nearly) all the non-operatic texts set by Benjamin Britten: Benjamin Britten's Poets - edited by Boris Ford: Carcanet, pounds 25

The surprise is that nobody had thought of it before. Seventeen years after Britten's death, the literature around his life and work has already swelled to vast proportions. The libretti of his operas, for instance, were long since gathered into a single volume with a penetrating preface from Hans Keller. Yet only now has the huge array of non-operatic texts Britten set been collected as an anthology, entitled Benjamin Britten's Poets, edited by Boris Ford and scheduled for publication by the Poetry Press, Carcanet, on 9 June.

Education: Music competition winners and answers

THE Independent ran a competition over four Thursdays during February and March for readers to win various musical instruments and a workshop for their school, courtesy of Boosey & Hawkes. Runner-up prizes of the Classics for Children CD ( pounds 9.99, catalogue number DPCD1061) or double cassette ( pounds 6.99, CIMPC061) were supplied by Pickwick.

OPERA / All adrift: Raymond Monelle on Scottish Opera's new Peter Grimes

It would be hard to imagine a production more effective and professional, yet at the same time less moving than Joachim Herz's version of Peter Grimes for Scottish Opera. There was a profound lesson in this monumental failure: operas that are sure of themselves, direct and unwavering in their emotion, simply need straightforward performance. But Benjamin Britten was never sure, never direct.

MUSIC / Dressed to impress: Robert Maycock on Jessye Norman's gala performance with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican Hall

Whoever called this gala concert 'Jessye Norman - Impressions' had the wrong idea about its impact. Nothing could be less vague, qualified, impressionistic. Impressive, on the other hand, is an understatement.

Competition: Win a violin for your school

The Independent is running a competition over four weeks in conjunction with the musical instrument specialist Boosey & Hawkes and the video and audio company Pickwick.

Education / Competition: An instrumental part of musical appreciation

Learning a musical instrument in school can be one of the most valuable and enriching parts of a child's education. It fosters understanding and a lifelong appreciation of music of all kinds. And once the child becomes reasonably competent on an instrument, he or she can draw great benefit, and enjoyment, from the teamwork involved in making music with others, in bands or orchestras.

BOOK REVIEW / Lust in the post: 'Intimate Letters' - ed Robin Hamilton & Nicolas Soames: Marginalia Press 12.99 pounds / 7.99 pounds; 'Letter Writing' - Nigel Rees: Bloomsbury, 14.99 pounds

THESE two books may never have sequels. The pen is not mightier than the phone call or electronic mail. 'Letter' could become a forgotten term, not just in books but in films and songs: E-Mail to Brezhnev, for example, or 'I'm gonna sit right down and fax myself a memo.'

The Classical Music Awards 1994: Stars come together in a new wide world: Artistic barriers are falling in a celebration of the whole field, writes Robert Maycock

IF you are new to the world of classical music, you will know all about it being exciting to watch the tenor Jose Carreras, the composer Henryk Gorecki and the 13-year-old violinist Sarah Chang follow one another on to the same concert platform. But unusual? You need to have followed the scene for a while to see it that way.

OPERA / A right royal progress: Julian Rushton on a timely revival of Benjamin Britten's long-neglected Coronation opera, Gloriana

Once upon a time opera companies sponsored by a County Council would have re-routed Elizabeth I's royal progress to the appropriate city, in this case Nottingham instead of Norwich. No such historical licence, nor any spurious attempt at topicality, mars Opera North's splendid new production of Britten's Gloriana. Phyllida Lloyd's direction and Anthony Ward's designs present the grandeur of the Queen and the squalor of political intrigue in handsome period costumes on an austere background: a front-stage corridor serves for the outdoor scenes, leaving detail to the imagination, while the full set is a panelled chamber surrounded by raised passages, with a rear balcony. These three levels help distinguish the choral groups, permit eavesdropping, and form a musicians' gallery. Huge rear doors make for magnificent entries and exits (Gloriana first appears framed in gold, an inspired image later matched by arrogant Essex astride a golden horse). They also reveal the vision of Essex before his execution and, as glory fades into silence, they open as gates of death for the bald Queen, exiting with touching dignity in a night-gown (or shroud?). She leaves behind a sumptuous empty dress, potent metaphor of the opera's central question: which was the true Gloriana, the woman or the Queen?

Opera singer dies

Joan Cross, the opera singer, who took lead roles in five of Benjamin Britten's operas, died aged 93.

CLASSICAL MUSIC / Too tasteful to be great

WAGNER'S Lohengrin aspires to the grandeur of epic myth but is otherwise a standard opera story of frustrated marriage; and it's ironic that the Act III Bridal Chorus has become an icon of Western matrimony, because the Bridal Chorus is actually a portent of disaster. Within 50 minutes comes what any divorce lawyer would recognise as irretrievable breakdown (husband carried off by bird); and on the first night of ENO's new production the portent was realised with uncommon vividness as the bridal choristers trooped on to find that the front curtain had stuck, leaving them invisible to much of the audience from the waist up. Like an LP in a power cut, the score ground to a halt . . . and of such memories are operatic legend made.

Obituary: Louis Berkman

Louis Berkman, operatic and liturgical singer: born Cape Town 6 August 1934; died 29 June 1993.

THEATRE / Venice dies a death: Paul Taylor on Red Shift's Death in Venice

A SPARE, stripped-down Death in Venice? It sounds about as dubious a proposition as a luxuriant, richly upholstered Waiting for Godot. Nevertheless, this is what Jonathan Holloway and Red Shift are now offering at the Edinburgh Festival. Their show, using a cast of just four actors, is being plugged a trifle tendentiously as the first stage version of Thomas Mann's novella - a claim which will come as a bit of a surprise to anyone who has seen Benjamin Britten's powerful opera. It reveals Red Shift operating at a level some way below its best work.

PROMS / In search of the lost chord: Stephen Johnson on the annual organ recital and a Docklands debut

THE ORGAN recital is not usually a spectator sport, and Tuesday's early-evening prom was no exception. The console may be exposed and central, but the player resembles only a tiny blob from most parts of the Albert Hall auditorium. We could at least see that Jacques van Oortmerssen hadn't smuggled in any cribs before his improvisation, though we had to take the programme note's word for it that he had been handed the theme the moment before he was due to begin. Perhaps a Bafta-style last-minute envelope-opening would only have made sense if we could have seen the expression on Van Oortmerssen's face.

MUSIC / A low-life approach to high art: Bayan Northcott surveys the unique history of The Beggar's Opera as the Britten version finally appears on CD

'It will do - it must do] I see it in the eyes of them,' exclaimed the Duke of Argyll half-way through the opening act. And of course it did. From its premiere at the Theatre Royal in Lincoln's Inn Fields on 29 January 1728, The Beggar's Opera proceeded to break all records: running 62 nights in the first season, rapidly getting taken up all over the country, to say nothing of the colonies, and inspiring an entire genre of so-called ballad operas. Fifty years, and countless revivals later, even Dr Johnson had to concede, 'Whether this new drama was the product of judgement or of luck, the praise of it must be given to the inventor.' Yet that characteristic quibble surely reflected more than just his fairly low opinion of the poetic talents of John Gay. Much of the fascination of The Beggar's Opera from the very start seems to have turned on the puzzle of what kind of piece it really is.
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