mon 16/01/2017

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Le Grand Macabre, LSO, Rattle, Barbican

David Nice

The Big Mac – as in Ligeti's music-theatre fantasia on the possible death of Death – is here to stay. Back in 1990, three critics (I was one) were invited on to the BBC World Service to say which work from the previous decade we thought would survive.

Written on Skin, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

There’s a passage in Martin Crimp’s impeccable libretto for Written on Skin that describes a page of illuminated manuscript. The ink, he tells us, stays forever wet – alive with moist, fleshy, indecent human reality rather than dried into decorous fixity. As a metaphor for storytelling, it’s potent; as a description of George Benjamin’s score, it’s close to literal.


Best of 2016: Opera

David Nice

It was the best and worst of years for English National Opera. Best, because principals, chorus and orchestra seem united in acclaiming their Music...

Der Rosenkavalier - Cast 2, Royal Opera

David Nice

Fiftysomething may well be the new 32, the age Strauss and Hofmannsthal made the central figure of the Marschallin in their "comedy for music" Der...

Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Der Rosenkavalier is an opera of thresholds. Characters are caught between states – girlhood and marriage, lover and lover-no-more, woman and...

El Niño, LSO, Adams, Barbican

David Nice

Light and darkness balanced in a great oratorio music-drama

Das Rheingold, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Robert Beale

Consummate 'preliminary evening' of the Ring from a master Wagnerian

Alice's Adventures Under Ground, Barbican

David Nice

Gerald Barry's crazy velocity berserks both 'Alice' books in rude style

Large, Hudson Shad, BBCSO, Gaffigan, Barbican

David Nice

Storm-force Brecht and Weill means lumpy Korngold is worth enduring

DiDonato, Il Pomo d'Oro, Emelyanchev, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

The American mezzo reimagines the classical concert for the stadium generation

Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera

Gavin Dixon

A strong revival cast, but the staging still won’t gel

ENO's Marvellous Miller in pictures

David Nice

Celebration of Sir Jonathan's award-winning productions with familiar stars

Simplicius Simplicissimus, Independent Opera

Helen Wallace

Polly Graham breathes fiery life into Hartmann's flawed drama

theartsdesk Q&A: Mezzo Anne Sofie von Otter

David Nice

Most elegant and eclectic of singers on new operas and fresh collaborations

Lulu, English National Opera

David Nice

Perfect rapport between stage and pit keeps tabs on William Kentridge's genius

Oreste, Royal Opera, Wilton's Music Hall

David Nice

Strong singing, if not fine-tuned to Handel, and playing at odds with hollow production

Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A solid spectacle still, but it's time for this Hoffmann to pass the baton

Maria de Rudenz, Wexford Festival Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

This gleeful production runs full tilt at Donizetti's gothic horror

Alcina, RAM, Round Chapel, Hackney

Alexandra Coghlan

Strong singing gets lost in this missed opportunity of a production

Martyn Brabbins: a safe pair of hands at ENO

David Nice

Noble choice for new Music Director under difficult circumstances

The Nose, Royal Opera

David Nice

Not quite as sharp as a pen, Kosky's Shostakovich has its funny moments

Billy Budd, Opera North

David Nice

Britten's drama of good and evil at sea lacerates in a strong, simple production

Madama Butterfly, Glyndebourne Tour

David Nice

Vocally respectable, dramatically inept deflation of a Puccini masterpiece

The Fairy Queen, AAM, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

A scrappy staging distracts from a superb performance of Purcell's semi-opera

Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Something horrifying, something sentimental in two thirds of Puccini's 'Il Trittico'

Don Giovanni, English National Opera

David Nice

Offbeat drama and meaningful singing in Mozart's trickiest masterpiece

Stravinsky: Myths and Rituals 5, Philharmonia, Salonen, RFH

Helen Wallace

Spine-tingling finale to a visionary series

Kiss Me, Kate, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Cole Porter's brushed-down Shakespeare true in its fashion

Così fan tutte, Royal Opera

David Nice

Conducting, not production, kills pace, singing – and Mozart

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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