fri 10/04/2020

Opera reviews, news and interviews

The Rake's Progress, Complicité online review - well-projected journey from pastoral to madhouse

David Nice

One way to look at Stravinsky's celebrated collaboration with W H Auden and Chester Kallman is as a numbers opera in nine pictures, four of them indebted to Hogarth's series of paintings/prints.

The Turn of the Screw, Opera North, OperaVision review - claustrophobic visions of terror and beauty

David Nice

Feeling stir-crazy right now? Imagine being confined to one room with a half-crazed housekeeper, two dysfunctional kids and two increasingly insistent ghosts, plagued by nightmares, unable even to get out into the garden or walk down to the lake.


Le nozze di Figaro, Garsington Opera, OperaVision...

David Nice

Only the birds will be singing at country opera houses around the UK this summer. Glyndebourne seems over-optimistic in declaring that it might be...

Classical music/Opera direct to home: 3 - Two...

David Nice

We're learning fast what works and what doesn't with online arts offerings in a time of coronavirus. A distinguished young pianist I know rightly...

Sondheim at 90 Songs: 2 - 'Epiphany'/...

David Nice

Two numbers, one hair-raising slice of music-theatre. When Sondheim's paying homage to the older, revue type of musical, you can extract a string of...

The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera review - energised attitudes, lower-level humanism

David Nice

Accomplished singer-actors keep an emotional hole at bay

Susanna, Royal Opera/London Handel Festival review - fitful shinings

David Nice

UnHandelian star quality from Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha saves this endurance test

Fidelio, Royal Opera review - fitfully vivid singing in a dramatic void

David Nice

Davidsen and Kaufmann don't disappoint, but Beethoven's music-theatre goes for nothing

Cosi fan tutte, English Touring Opera review - a blissful, uncomplicated delight

Alexandra Coghlan

A youthful romp of a production brings the sunshine back to Mozart's complicated comedy

Nixon in China, Scottish Opera - musical chatter, poetic banality

Christopher Lambton

Three decades on from its UK premiere in Edinburgh, how does John Adams' first opera fare?

Denis and Katya, Music Theatre Wales / Uproar, Rafferty review - disturbing the untroubled monotony of South Wales music

Stephen Walsh

New Venables and Huffman opera as reality TV and new music in a dry land

Luisa Miller, English National Opera review - Verdi in translation makes a stylish comeback

David Nice

Musical splendours peak in a tenor aria to die for and a moving last act

theartsdesk Q&A: soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn

David Nice

Returning to ENO to sing Verdi's Luisa Miller, a great singer-actor reflects

Les vêpres siciliennes, Welsh National Opera review - spectacular, silly, but some great music

Stephen Walsh

Verdi's reluctant grand opera colourfully staged, brilliantly played, unevenly sung

Alice's Adventures Under Ground, Royal Opera review - a blast for children of all ages

David Nice

Gerald Barry's manic dash through two Lewis Carroll classics has a staging worthy of it

Ermonela Jaho, Stephen Maughan, Wigmore Hall review – emotional honesty in rare repertoire

Sebastian Scotney

An innate sense of pacing and dramatic timing in the Albanian soprano's recital

Siegfried, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - an incandescent journey to the mountain top

David Nice

Varying degrees of vocal characterisation, but the playing is breathtakingly detailed

Street Scene, Opera North review - a true ensemble achievement

Robert Beale

Youth to the fore in Kurt Weill’s brilliant ‘Broadway opera’

Sukanya, RFH review - Ravi Shankar's bright-eyed, varied fable

David Nice

Fine performances, but crude miking suggests this would work better as a chamber opera

prisoner of the state, Barbican review - beauty, but where is the drama?

Alexandra Coghlan

David Lang's efficient homage to Beethoven can't eclipse the original

'Divinity is all around us': soprano Susanna Hurrell on Ravi Shankar's 'Sukanya'

Susanna Hurrell

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Indian master's birth with a return to his opera

Best of 2019: Opera

David Nice

Haunted-ballroom Shostakovich and high jinks in Royal Albert Hall Berlioz top the bill

Peter Grimes, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Gardner, RFH review - more instrumental than vocal intensity

David Nice

Superlative playing and conducting, some fine singing, but the protagonist is a bit peaky

theartsdesk Q&A: Director Sir Jonathan Miller

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

The legendary director lets rip

Death in Venice, Royal Opera review – expansive but intimate evocations

Gavin Dixon

David McVicar brings light and movement to gloomy Venice, but holds psychological focus

Orphée, English National Opera review – through a screen darkly

Boyd Tonkin

Matters of life and death reflected in Glass and Cocteau's myth

Mrs Peachum's Guide to Love and Marriage, Mid Wales Opera review - scaled down seediness, with a swing

Richard Bratby

Toxic femininity takes centre stage in the outrageous essence of The Beggar's Opera

Der Freischütz, Barbican review - Gothic chills rooted in flesh and earth

Alexandra Coghlan

Two outstanding leads make for a memorable concert-staging

The Mask of Orpheus, English National Opera review - amorphous excess

David Nice

Daniel Kramer's camp carnival defuses any focus in Birtwistle's bruising score

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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