thu 14/11/2019

Opera reviews, news and interviews

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

Alexandra Coghlan

It’s hard to believe that in 1824 there were no fewer than six productions of Weber’s Der Freischütz in London alone. Since then this colourful piece of German Romanticism hasn’t fared nearly so well, disappearing from the UK’s opera houses not just for years but decades at a time.

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

David Nice

Advance publicity overstated the case for The Mask of Orpheus. "Iconic"? Only to academics and acolytes, for British audiences haven't had a chance to see a production since ENO's world premiere run in 1986. "Masterpiece"?

 

Don Pasquale, Royal Opera review - fun and...

Miranda Heggie

Venetian director Damiano Michieletto’s new Royal Opera production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale is a clever and entertaining mix of old and new. The...

The Cunning Little Vixen, Welsh National Opera...

Stephen Walsh

Considering that Janáček’s Vixen is, among other things, an allegory of the passing and returning years, it’s appropriate that WNO continue to...

Orpheus in the Underworld, English National Opera...

Jessica Duchen

Maybe some British opera houses just don’t get operetta. Without wit, lightness and snappy pace, cudgelling us with desperate relevance,...

The Silver Lake, English Touring Opera review - shadows of the Weimar twilight

Boyd Tonkin

A welcome resurrection of Kurt Weill's sombre farewell to Germany

The Seraglio, English Touring Opera review – focused and light

Gavin Dixon

Small-scale, traditional staging allows Mozart’s early comedy to shine

Orpheus and Eurydice, English National Opera review – imaginative but underwhelming

Gavin Dixon

Dance focus intrigues, but is let down by incoherent designs and modest musical offerings

Jessye Norman, 1945-2019

David Nice

The great soprano has died at the age of 74, leaving behind a fabulous legacy

Rigoletto, Welsh National Opera review - same old update, fine performance

Stephen Walsh

Verdi in the White House but sung and played as if born in Wales

The Intelligence Park, Linbury Theatre review - baroque to the point of obscurity

David Nice

Nearly 30 years on from its premiere, this oddity shows its style, but still not much more

Agrippina, Royal Opera review - carry on up the Campidoglio

David Nice

Vamping, stamping and men-babies on stage, a capricious beast in the pit

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

Stephen Walsh

Bizet's tragic masterpiece well sung but short on dramatic momentum

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

Jessica Duchen

Massenet's opera shines bright, notwithstanding a slightly clunky hero

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera review - laid-back Lothario

Gavin Dixon

Revival cast variable, but Erwin Schrott delivers as the would-be seducer

The Greek Passion, Opera North - pertinence and power

Graham Rickson

Good versus evil in rural Greece

'This goes beyond music and drama': tenor Nicky Spence on Martinů's 'The Greek Passion'

Nicky Spence

On his Christ-playing character in Opera North's new production of a Czech masterpiece

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

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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