tue 24/09/2019

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Carmen, Welsh National Opera review - intermittent brilliance in a gloomy, unclear environment

Stephen Walsh

You can love Carmen as much as you like (as much as I do, for instance), and still have a certain sympathy for the poor director who has to find something new to say about a work so anchored in a particular style and place. For all its musical and dramatic brilliance, Bizet’s piece is a litter of stereotypes: the wild gipsy girl, the village ingénue, the strutting toreador, the smugglers (all forty or fifty of them), the Spanish dancers, the castanets, the wiggling hips.

Werther, Royal Opera review - shadows and sunsets from an unreconstructed romantic

Jessica Duchen

Goethe’s Die Leiden des junges Werthers (The Sorrows of Young Werther) was a vital spark in the ignition of the German romantic movement. The story of a young man driven to kill himself for love of a woman, Charlotte, who loves him but marries someone else out of duty to her family, it was first published in 1774. It triggered a fever across Europe ranging from fashion trends (Werther wears blue with a yellow waistcoat) to a spate of copycat suicides.


Don Giovanni, Royal Opera review - laid-back...

Gavin Dixon

Kasper Holten left a mixed bag of productions behind at Royal Opera when he left in 2017, but the best of them - though not all my colleagues on The...

The Greek Passion, Opera North - pertinence and...

Graham Rickson

Martinů's The Greek Passion is a bold choice as a season opener, all the more so given that Opera North are staging the rarely-seen original version...

'This goes beyond music and drama':...

Nicky Spence

I’m a big fanboy of Czech music, Janáček and Martinů especially, but I’d never seen The Greek Passion before being cast as Manolios in Opera North’s...

Don Jo, Grimeborn review - conceptual style over musical substance

Miranda Heggie

Queer take on Mozart shines interesting light on the story, but casts music in the shade

Prom 59: Benvenuto Cellini, Monteverdi Choir, ORR, Gardiner review - don't stop the carnival

David Nice

The best and sharpest possible celebration of the Berlioz anniversary year

Prom 51: Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne review - smooth classic without depth

David Nice

Imported gags work when comedy's intended but get in the way of seriously good singing

Edinburgh International Festival 2019: Bach's Multiple Concertos/ Manon Lescaut reviews - dancing harpsichords, perfect Puccini

David Nice

A day of pleasure and pain crowned by Sondra Radvanovsky and Donald Runnicles

Edinburgh International Festival 2019: Breaking the Waves, Scottish Opera/Opera Ventures review - great film makes a dodgy opera

David Nice

Lars von Trier's terrifying Passion is reduced to another sacrificial-woman opera

Making new waves: Royce Vavrek on forging a libretto from Lars von Trier

Royce Vavrek

Missy Mazzoli's collaborator on their new operatic version of 'Breaking the Waves'

Edinburgh International Festival 2019: Eugene Onegin, Komische Oper review - no-holds-barred romanticism

Miranda Heggie

Stunning singing in a luxuriant and lovely production

Rinaldo, Glyndebourne Festival review - teenage dreams

Miranda Heggie

Stale stereotypes abound in a production that’s a bit past its sell by date

theartsdesk Q&A: composer Alastair White on his new opera ROBE

Miranda Heggie

Emerging Scottish talent describes creating layers of reality in his latest work

The Gondoliers, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company review - charm where it matters

Richard Bratby

A budget trip to Venice, in the liveliest of company

theartsdesk in Dalarna: Rhinegold in a Swedish barn by a lake

David Nice

Intimate Wagner works a treat with a uniformly world-class cast and a 32-piece orchestra

L'Arlesiana, Opera Holland Park review - at last, a rare Italian gem

David Nice

Empathetic performances and conducting help Cilea's pastoral tragedy to soar

War and Peace, Welsh National Opera, Royal Opera House - bold epic weakened by loosely-directed characterisations

David Nice

Strong singing and conducting, but Prokofiev's psychological acuity is ill served

Il Segreto di Susanna/Iolanta, Opera Holland Park review - superb singing, mixed staging

Alexandra Coghlan

A fine double-bill marred by its mismatched halves

Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne Festival review – high jinks in the Grand Mozart Hotel

Boyd Tonkin

Some delicious singing cuts through fanciful upstairs-downstairs frolics

Pavarotti review - enjoyable but superficial survey of a superstar

Adam Sweeting

Ron Howard's portrait of the fabled tenor leaves his inner life unexamined

Pick of the BBC Proms 2019


Our classical music/opera reviewers choose their favourites from the next eight weeks

Don Giovanni, Longborough Festival Opera review - Mozart in the urinal

Stephen Walsh

Coarsened, disembowelled and only quite well sung

Eugene Onegin/Georgiana, Buxton Festival review - poetry and pantomime

Richard Bratby

Thought provoking Tchaikovsky meets the operatic equivalent of Frankenstein's Monster

La Fille du Régiment, Royal Opera review - enjoyable but questionable revival

Gavin Dixon

Tenor Javier Camarena excels in an otherwise only serviceable account

'A product not only of his era but also of his travels': Ian Page on Mozart's cosmopolitan education

Ian Page

The Mozartists' main man on how an early life moving around Europe shaped a genius

The Turn of the Screw, Garsington Opera review - superb music drama on an open stage

Stephen Walsh

Britten's problematic ghost opera allowed to triumph by way of the music

Noye's Fludde, ENO/Theatre Royal Stratford East review - two-dimensional music theatre

David Nice

Kudos to all the performers, but the audience doesn't get Britten's whole story

Rusalka, Glyndebourne Festival review - away with the distressed fairies

Stephen Walsh

Dvořák's late masterpiece richly revealed without the airy-fairy

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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