sat 29/04/2017

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Doctor Atomic, BBCSO, Adams, Barbican

David Nice

Bomb-dropping is the new black again in Trump's dysfunctional America. Awareness of that contributed to the crackling cloud of dynamic dread hanging over last night's concert staging of John Adams's opera-oratorio - my description, not his - about the July 1945 desert testing of the plutonium bomb under the supervision of self-divided Robert Oppenheimer, an American Faust.

The Exterminating Angel, Royal Opera

Peter Quantrill

"But is any of this normal?," asks poor Beatriz at the end of Act One. Of course not. She and 14 other grand creatures are crossing the space of an aristocratic drawing-room from which, they are coming to realise, there is no escape. At the same time, it’s completely normal. This is opera.


Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria, EBS, Gardiner...

Stephen Walsh

“Never give one concert if you can give a hundred” might stand as a motto for the conductor who once hauled his choir and orchestra round the world...

Patience/Tosca, English Touring Opera

Richard Bratby

How well do you know your bad Victorian poetry? “When through the purple corridors the screaming scarlet Ibis flew/In terror, and a horrid dew...

Bluebeard's Castle & The 8th Door,...

David Kettle

What to pair with Bluebeard’s Castle? It’s always a dilemma for opera companies. Something lightweight, even comic, provides contrast but also risks...

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

Partenope, English National Opera

David Nice

Everyone in this Handel revival makes froth seem stylish and effortless

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera

David Nice

No joy or lightness in Kasper Holten's messy Wagner, despite high musical values

The Winter's Tale, English National Opera

David Nice

Concentrated if limited new Shakespeare opera elevated by cast and direction

Hansel and Gretel, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Uneven update redeemed by superb singing

Juan Diego Flórez, Vincenzo Scalera, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Richard Bratby

Quiet smiles outweigh high Cs in a recital of two distinct halves

Le Vin herbé, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

A 1930s Tristan opera, beautiful and sombre, brilliantly played and sung

Listed: How I Do Love Thee


Let theartsdesk count the ways with our romantic favourites from all over the arts

Kaufmann, Mattila, LSO, Pappano, Barbican

Peter Quantrill

Restraint and reward in a Wagner evening of intermittent thrills

Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera

Gavin Dixon

Engaging if little-known work shines in well-cast revival

Rigoletto, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

This first-class production deserves better than this second-rate revival

The Snow Maiden, Opera North

David Nice

Rimsky-Korsakov's glorious score, or most of it, receives its fair share of magic

Les Enfants Terribles, Barbican

Jenny Gilbert

Javier de Frutos brings depth and flair to Philip Glass's dance-opera

Christine Rice, Julius Drake, Middle Temple Hall

David Nice

Glorious abandonment and perfect technique from one of the world's great mezzos

Fidelio, LPO, Jurowski, RFH

Alexandra Coghlan

A misguided staging obscured the power of this fine performance

Summerfield, Jackson, Riches, Classical Opera, Page, Wigmore Hall

David Nice

Three outstanding singers and an early Mozart revelation focus on 1767

La Traviata, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Latest revival of Richard Eyre's war horse is full of youthful energy and passion

The Last Supper, BBCSSO, Brabbins, City Halls, Glasgow

David Kettle

A thrilling renaissance for Birtwistle's ritualistic religious opera

Le Grand Macabre, LSO, Rattle, Barbican

David Nice

Demi-staging of Ligeti's apocalypse-maybe hits hard but misses the wit and brio

Written on Skin, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

This contemporary classic only gets better with each hearing

Best of 2016: Opera

David Nice

A complex, giddying 'Lulu' is queen of a year rich in new operas

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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