In the work-list of Lennox Berkeley opera stands as a vibrant but not profuse presence. There were eventually to be four Berkeley operas in total encompassing more than five hours of music for voices and orchestra. Even leaving out of the reckoning a fifth, which was never completed, this represents the single largest quantity of music in Berkeley’s catalogue.
The fanfaring for the premiere caused quite a stir, so much so that it was broadcast live by the BBC on 30 September 1954. There were nine performances in the 1954/5 season and the whole opera was heard in
Manchester on 8 October 1954 and Birmingham on 14 October 1954. A hiatus followed allowing for Robert Thomas and Anna Pollak championing an aria or arias on the BBC Home Service on 20 November 1955 in the “Divertissement” series.
Thirty years after the Sadler’s Wells premiere the opera had its first complete revival and this studio event (recorded at home by Richard Itter a recording on which these CDs are founded) was given by BBC Radio 3 incorporating the revisions to the Act II of Nelson which Berkeley had made for the 1960s broadcast. The artists included the BBC Singers, chorus-master Simon Joly and the BBC Symphony Orchestra led by Rodney Friend conducted by Elgar (Gary) Howarth. This went out on Sunday 23 October 1983, the year of Berkeley’s eightieth birthday. It was a centrepiece to the BBC radio series “The Operas of Berkeley”12. Peter Dickinson (a Patron of the Berkeley Society and author of the major Berkeley study) was the presenter.
The opera centres on the love affair of Horatio Nelson, and Emma, Lady Hamilton. Completed in 1951, it was first performed in full in 1954. The British Embassy in Naples is the scene of a birthday party for Nelson, arranged to celebrate his victory at the Nile. He appears with ‘the sadness of the world upon his lips’ and while the other guests are dancing, Nelson, with Emma Hamilton, the Ambassador’s wife, beside him, hears a servant foretell his future unhappiness. This releases the passionate feelings of the couple for each other and the conflict in their lives.