sun 05/07/2020

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Classical music/Opera direct to home 19 – and two before a live audience

David Nice

It’s begun: very limited access to live music, the chance to sit before one or two players in the same room – as we were doing only three and a half months ago, in some cases thousands of us before an orchestra of up to a hundred musicians.

The Opera Story: Episodes review - whimsical takes on lockdown life

Bernard Hughes

The Opera Story is an enterprising set-up based in London and founded with a mission to commission and stage new operas by early career composers. They have so far produced three full-scale pieces, the earliest from 2017, performed in a reclaimed warehouse space in Peckham.


Classical music/Opera direct to home 17 - festive...

David Nice

As the Wigmore Hall goes dark again for the summer after a stupendous series of June weekday recitals - you can still catch them all on film at the...

Don Giovanni/Sibelius plus, Swedish RSO, Harding...

David Nice

"Touch her and you die," sings Masetto in telling Don Giovanni to keep away from his Zerlina. There's certainly trouble, though not instant death,...

Live from Covent Garden 1, Royal Opera and Ballet...

David Nice

Vintage champagne was served up last night, and whether you found the glass half-full or half-empty would depend on your perspective. In the bigger...

Classical music/Opera direct to home 15 - opening up at different rates

David Nice

The Royal Opera cautiously re-engages, while Sweden and Norway continue apace

Classical music/Opera direct to home 14 - sound and vision at the highest level

David Nice

Esoteric Berlin delights, two fine UK concerts, vivid Puccini and classical awards for all

La voix humaine, Grange Park Opera online review – hanging on the telephone

Boyd Tonkin

Poulenc's technological tragedy proves eerily apt for lockdown lives

Classical Music/Opera direct to home 12 - partying at a distance

David Nice

Festivals cope with live online events and past fare

The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, Dutch National Opera, OperaVision review - fairy-tale good and evil made real

David Nice

Rimsky-Korsakov's myth resonates in the highest musical and production standards

Avoiding meltdown from lockdown: Michael Chance on The Grange Festival's strategy for survival

Michael Chance

The countertenor and mastermind of a major summer opera event weighs up the future

Sadko, Bolshoi Opera online review - medieval Russia meets reality TV

Gavin Dixon

Tcherniakov reimagines Rimsky-Korsakov's fairy-tale, without losing the magic

Eugene Onegin, Komische Oper, OperaVision review - sensual and devastating

Alexandra Coghlan

Kosky serves up first love hot and sweet and heartbreaking

Metropolitan Opera At-Home Gala livestream review - classy joy and sorrow in domestic settings

David Nice

Top voices giving generously to raise funds in often dodgy Skyped sound

Classical Music/Opera direct to home 8 - from troubled royal rituals to a lone cellist

David Nice

Pick of the week's best pre-recorded operas and livestream comings-together

Elektra/Der Rosenkavalier, Nightly Met Opera Streams review - searing hits and indulgent misses

David Nice

Challenging direction, great conducting and luxury casting in New York Strauss

Classical Music/Opera direct to home 6 - Parsifals for Easter

David Nice

Enlightenment through compassion takes a strange route in three Wagner productions

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

David Nice

Big, bold approach to time-travelling Stravinsky misses out on nuance

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

David Nice

Strongly-cast revival keeps the ambiguities of Henry James's ghost story in play

Le nozze di Figaro, Garsington Opera, OperaVision review - natural comedy, musical sublimity

David Nice

Durable period setting enshrines perfect characterisations. Plus a Handel special

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

David Nice

If you want searing music-drama, Janáček's are the place to start - but choose carefully

Sondheim at 90 Songs: 2 - 'Epiphany'/'A Little Priest'

David Nice

Is there a better climax to a musical first act than the terror-plus-wit in 'Sweeney Todd'?

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

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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