mon 06/12/2021

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Zingari/Tosca Suite, Opera Rara, Rizzi, Cadogan Hall review - symphonic mastery and fluent hokum

David Nice

Two major composers took Pushkin’s narrative poem The Gypsies as the subject for two very different operas. The 19 year old Rachmaninov in 1892 had inspiration but not much sense of dramatic continuity; Leoncavallo in 1912, 20 years on from his deserved smash hit Pagliacci, managed the flow but not the inspiration.

The Valkyrie, English National Opera review - fitfully flickering flames

David Nice

That the ever-decreasing circles of Richard Jones’s first Wagner Ring instalment for English National Opera ended in a no-show for the fire that should have made former Valkyrie supreme Brünnhilde proof against all but a fearless hero – Westminster City Council poured cold water on it before this first night – is in a way the least of it.


The Cunning Little Vixen, CBSO, Gražinytė-Tyla,...

Richard Bratby

"Nature is healing," declared the social media meme, back in the early days of lockdown when humanity had temporarily retreated to focus on its...

Macbeth, Royal Opera review - bloody, bold, and...

Gavin Dixon

Phyllida Lloyd’s production of Macbeth has been in rep at the Royal Opera since 2002, and it is a solid performer. The setting is slick and vaguely...

Siegfried, RINGafa, St Mary’s Putney review -...

Peter Quantrill

A Samoan-themed Ring cycle? Well, why not? A calculated distance has always separated its audience from the Norse and German epics of its origin....

Carmen, Opera North review - humanity and no bull

Robert Beale

Lavish comeback to the live stage with a director’s show

Bluebeard's Castle 1: Bullock, Finley, Theatre of Sound, Stone Nest review - scenes from a marriage

David Nice

Two great singing actors make an unusual take on Bartók's masterpiece mostly plausible

Bluebeard’s Castle 2: Komlósi, Relyea, LPO, Gardner, RFH review - consolations of solitude

Peter Quantrill

Singers transcend concert-performance conventions in the ultimate 'opera of the mind'

First Persons: Susan Bullock, Gerald Finley and Stephen Higgins on a 'Bluebeard's Castle' with a difference


How experience of dementia led to a unique take on Bartók's dark masterpiece

'Everyone who played for him always gave their very best': remembering Bernard Haitink (1929-2021)


Singers, instrumentalists, conductors and a photographer pay loving homage

HMS Pinafore, English National Opera review - shipshape classic comedy craft

David Nice

More hits than misses from Cal McCrystal’s gagbook and a mostly musical line-up

Royal Opera House lullabies for Little Amal

David Nice

Near the end of her long journey, our refugee gets a welcome her real-life kin are denied

The Rake's Progress, Glyndebourne Tour - a classic revitalized

David Nice

A new generation responds vibrantly to Hockney, Cox, Stravinsky, Auden and Kallman

Die ägyptische Helena, Fulham Opera review - mythological mess impressively handled

David Nice

Ambitious company works wonders on Richard Strauss's most problematic opera

Bernstein Double Bill, Opera North review - fractured relationships in song and dance

Graham Rickson

Heartbreak and strife from a pair of Leeds institutions

Don Pasquale, Glyndebourne Tour review - winning comeback for a sturdy veteran

Boyd Tonkin

Sweet spots abound in Donizetti's much-loved sugar-daddy romp

First Person: director Frederic Wake-Walker on Glyndebourne's new 'Fidelio'

Frederic Wake-Walker

Tracing the problems of staging Beethoven's only opera over five years

Jenůfa, Royal Opera review - Janáček scours the soul again in a compelling new take

David Nice

Equality of greatness from Asmik Grigorian and Karita Mattila in a striking context

Madam Butterfly, Welsh National Opera review - decent performance, disagreeable context

Stephen Walsh

Puccini's Japan as paradigm of nastinesses in a dystopic postmodern biosphere

The Midsummer Marriage, LPO, Gardner, RFH review – Tippett’s cornucopia shines in fits and starts

David Nice

The central act is pure genius, but undramatic flaws glare in a naked concert performance

'Rest now, you God': remembering bass-baritone Norman Bailey (1933-2021)


Greatest of Wagnerians remembered by four fellow-singers and two conductors

The Magic Flute, Royal Opera review - all but a guarantee of a great night out

Alexandra Coghlan

Opera's classiest pantomime looks better than ever in this handsome revival

Rigoletto, Royal Opera review - routine clouds the best in this season opener

David Nice

Orchestra and chorus pass with flying colours, but tradition weighs heavy elsewhere

Summer seasons in a Covid world: five opera company movers and shakers reflect


The admins are the heroes now: how festivals surmounted all obstacles

The Barber of Seville, Welsh National Opera review - back to work in an old banger

Stephen Walsh

Some excellent singing struggling with a weary production and an unhelpful translation

Tristan und Isolde, Glyndebourne, BBC Proms review - endless love, perfect pace

David Nice

Robin Ticciati conducts his first Wagner opera, and it's a revelation

Ariadne auf Naxos, Edinburgh International Festival review – apt setting for Strauss hybrid

Douglas McDonald

Starry cast and glittering orchestra charm on a chilly evening

theartsdesk at the Birgit Nilsson Days - the rich legacy of a farm girl turned diva

David Nice

The greatest of sopranos who never forgot her roots lives on in her successors

Remembering Graham Vick (1953-2021) - top colleagues on one of the greatest opera directors


Five singers, a conductor and a casting director recall an irreplaceable visionary

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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