sat 24/06/2017

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Otello, Royal Opera review — Kaufmann makes a pretty Moor

Ismene Brown

Recorded on disc, this cast would be extraordinary for much of the time — to look at, not so much.

Pelléas et Mélisande, Garsington Opera review - brilliant but frustrating

Stephen Walsh

A drama of passion for essentially passive characters, Debussy’s one and only completed opera is a masterpiece of paradox. How do you stage a work whose dramatis personae hardly seem aware of their own destructive feelings, and who inhabit their island world like the blind who, according to Pelléas, used to visit the curative fountain but stopped doing so when the king himself went blind?


Der Rosenkavalier, Welsh National Opera review -...

Stephen Walsh

Der Rosenkavalier, you might think, is one of those operas that belong in a specific place and time and no other. “In Vienna,” says Strauss's score...

Hamlet, Glyndebourne review - integrity if not...

David Nice

Nature’s germens tumble all together rather readily in more recent operatic Shakespeare. Following the overblown storm before the storm of Reimann’s...

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Snape Maltings

Alexandra Coghlan

It’s all there in the first few bars of Britten’s music – that unsettling tension between beauty and familiarity, and eerie, undefinable otherness....

Tristan und Isolde, Longborough Festival

Stephen Walsh

Wagner benefits as usual from the intimacy of Longborough's converted barn theatre

'The challenge is to make something of not very much': Iestyn Davies on Britten's Oberon

Iestyn Davies

The countertenor, singing the Fairy King at Aldeburgh, traces the role's history

'You are my hero, dear Jiří': Karita Mattila and others remember Jiří Bělohlávek


A younger conductor, a diva and four players salute the greatest of Czech musicians

Radamisto, Guildhall School, Milton Court

Alexandra Coghlan

Handel's late opera gets a witty reimagining

theartsdesk in Göttingen: Handel for all

David Nice

Dazzling singers, clavichord at sunrise and a generous spirit in the heart of Germany

La Rondine, Opera Holland Park

David Nice

Elizabeth Llewellyn soars in Puccini's tuneful waltz-dream

L'Orfeo, EBS, Gardiner, Colston Hall, Bristol

Stephen Walsh

Gardiner's Monteverdi ends at the beginning and is none the worse for that

theartsdesk Q&A: Soprano Aida Garifullina

David Nice

The Kazan-born prima donna on Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stephen Frears

The Mikado review - Sasha Regan's all-male operetta formula hits a reef

David Nice

Familiar company faces can't quite compensate for an odd choice of setting

Sebestyén, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer, RFH

Sebastian Scotney

Unforgettable Hungarians, including the magical presence of a great folk singer

Hipermestra / La Traviata, Glyndebourne

Ismene Brown

Baroque opera debuts in Isis imagery - how does that work? Plus Verdi revival

Y Tŵr, MTW, Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Stephen Walsh

Fine new chamber opera in Welsh proves singing not dead in the land of song

Ariodante, The English Concert, Bicket, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

The orchestra was the real hero in this superb concert performance of Handel's opera

Turandot, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Deafening, thrilling account of a flawed masterpiece

L'Incoronazione di Poppea, EBS, Gardiner, Colston Hall, Bristol

Stephen Walsh

Monteverdi's final, problem opera a curate's egg, good in parts and not all by him

Doctor Atomic, BBCSO, Adams, Barbican

David Nice

Gerald Finley reprises his tormented nuclear scientist in electrifying company

The Exterminating Angel, Royal Opera

Peter Quantrill

A savage new conversation piece lives up to its distinguished source

Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, EBS, Gardiner, Colston Hall, Bristol

Stephen Walsh

Monteverdi Odyssey begins, aptly and superbly, with the last masterpiece

Patience/Tosca, English Touring Opera

Richard Bratby

G&S wave a lily and Puccini gets down to basics on ETO's spring tour

Bluebeard's Castle & The 8th Door, Scottish Opera

David Kettle

A provocative premiere shines revealing new light on Bartók's dark opera masterpiece

Madama Butterfly, Royal Opera

David Nice

Strong revival remarkable for the teamwork of Ermonela Jaho and Antonio Pappano

Alceste, Early Opera Company, Curnyn, Wigmore Hall

David Nice

Joy unalloyed in Handel's far from tragic incidental music for a classical drama

Ormisda, St George's Hanover Square

Alexandra Coghlan

This collection of baroque best bits was a feast of melody

The First Commandment, Classical Opera, St John’s Smith Square

Peter Quantrill

The teenage Mozart's miraculous maturity

Footnote: a brief history of opera in Britain

Britain has world-class opera companies in the Royal Opera, English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera and Opera North, not to mention the celebrated country-house festival at Glyndebourne and others elsewhere. The first English opera was an experiment in 1656, as Civil War raged between Cromwell and Charles II, and it was under the restored king that theatre and opera exploded in London. Henry Purcell composed the masterpiece Dido and Aeneas (for a girls' school) and over the next century Handel, Gluck, J C Bach and Haydn came to London to compose Italian-style classical operas.

Hogarth_Beggars_Opera_1731_cTateHowever, the imported style was challenged by the startling success of John Gay's low-life street opera The Beggar's Opera (1728), a score collating 69 folk ballads, which set off a wave of indigenous popular musical theatre (pictured, William Hogarth's The Beggar's Opera, 1731, © Tate). Gay built the first Covent Garden opera house (1732), where three of Handel's operas were premiered, and musical theatre and vaudeville flourished as an alternative to opera. Through the 19th century, London became a hub for visiting composers and grand opera stars, but from the meshing of "high" and "popular" creativity at Sadler's Wells (built in 1765) evolved in time a distinct English tradition of wit and social satire in the "Savoy" operas of Gilbert and Sullivan.

In the 20th century Benjamin Britten's dramatic operas such as Peter Grimes and Billy Budd reflected a different sort of ordinariness, his genius driving the formation of the English Opera Group at Aldeburgh. English opera, and opera in English, became central to the establishment, after the Second World War, of a national arts infrastructure, with subsidised resident companies at English National Opera and the Royal Opera. By the 1950s, due to pressure from international opera stars refusing to learn roles in English, Covent Garden joined the circuit of major international houses, staging opera in their original languages, with visiting stars such as Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi and the young Luciano Pavarotti matched by home-grown ones like Joan Sutherland and Geraint Evans.

Today British opera thrives with a reputation for fresh thinking in classics, from new productions of Mozart, Verdi and Wagner landmarks to new opera commissions and popular arena stagings of Carmen. The Arts Desk brings you the fastest overnight reviews and the quickest ticket booking links for last night's openings, as well as the most thoughtful close-up interviews with major creative figures and performers. Our critics include Igor Toronyi-Lalic, David Nice, Edward Seckerson, Alexandra Coghlan, Graham Rickson and Ismene Brown.

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