fri 07/05/2021

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Christa Ludwig, 1928-2021: a selective tribute

David Nice

I only saw Christa Ludwig twice live in concert, but those appearances epitomise her incredible dramatic and vocal rage as well as her peerless artistry in everything she did. The first event was Schubert’s Winterreise with pianist Charles Spencer at the Southbank Centre, at a time when it was less common for women to take on the role of the heavy-hearted wayfarer: the intensity still resonates.

The Seven Deadly Sins / Mahagonny Songspiel, Royal Opera online - modern morality tales mesh uneasily

David Nice

There are so many good ideas, so much talented hard work from the singers of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme and two dancers, such a cinematic use of the Royal Opera House, that Isabelle Kettle’s interweaving of two Brecht/Weill mini masterpieces ought to work better than it does.


L'heure espagnole, Grange Park Opera online...

Richard Bratby

Some production concepts seem so obvious, in retrospect, that you wonder why they haven’t been tried more often. Traffic hums in the foreground in...

Siegfried, Göteborg Opera online review - a hero...

Peter Quantrill

The team of Stephen Langridge (director), Alison Chitty (design) and Paul Pyant (lighting) produced a quietly radical Parsifal at the Royal Opera in...

Shakespeare Re-Shaped, Opera Up Close online...

Richard Bratby

The screen lights up, the Zoom link connects and there, blinking back at you (30% awkward, 70% enthusiastic) is a familiar face. Is it definitely...

Der Rosenkavalier, Bavarian State Opera online review - myth-making magic

David Nice

A superb cast brings to life Barrie Kosky's vivid Strauss/Hofmannsthal reinterpretation

First Person: Anna Lucia Richter on Monteverdi and a transition from soprano to mezzo

Anna Lucia Richter

A last gift from the pre-Covid era followed by surprises in a time of pandemic

Die tote Stadt, Komische Oper Berlin, OperaVision review – when catharsis goes missing

Jessica Duchen

Robert Carsen's production of Korngold's impassioned opera doesn't ring all the bells

Tony and the Young Artists, Royal Opera/Liebeslieder Waltzes, Blackheath Halls online review - love and joy

David Nice

Much-needed platforms for talented youth to make its way in difficult times

Der Freischütz, Bavarian State Opera online review – marksmen as marketeers

Gavin Dixon

Tcherniakov’s staging heightens the psychological drama, but his feminist angle falls flat

Hansel and Gretel, Scottish Opera online - bewitching feast for ears but not eyes

David Nice

Rhian Lois and Kitty Whately excel as babes in the cheap wood of a cut-price production

Classical musicians on life after Brexit - 4: singers speak out

Nicky Spence

Top tenor Nicky Spence introduces five other distinguished voices on the visa debacle

Netrebko, Met Stars Live in Concert online review - flashy performance from operatic powerhouse

Miranda Heggie

Glitz and glamour on a unique recital stage

The Turn of the Screw, OperaGlass Works online review - the fright is in the filming

David Nice

Britten’s chamber opera chills in camerawork and high musical values

Holy Sonnets/The Heart's Assurance/A Charm of Lullabies, English Touring Opera online review - darkest hours

Boyd Tonkin

Strikingly staged song-cycles of unease by Britten and Tippett

Romances on British Poetry / The Poet's Echo, English Touring Opera online review - Britten and Shostakovich in a double mirror

Richard Bratby

Two composers add up to one compelling drama, as ETO cuts its cloth to suit the times

Best of 2020: Opera

David Nice

With no touching from mid-March onwards, this art-form was hard hit - but ingenuity ruled

Royal Opera Christmas Concert online review – pajama party around the Nutcracker tree

David Nice

Vivacious opera and cheesy carols under the lively baton of Mark Wigglesworth

Pagliacci, Opera Ensemble, Longborough review - stripped down but live

Stephen Walsh

Finding the essence of a minor masterpiece

Così fan tutte, Scottish Opera online review - wit and deception in an empty theatre

Christopher Lambton

Am-dram props and loose directorial ends don't faze a team of fine young singers

First Person(s): soprano Susan Bullock and baritone William Dazeley on filming Britten’s Owen Wingrave

Susan Bullock And William Dazeley

Grange Park Opera makes the most of Covid restrictions by producing a TV opera

L'enfant et les sortilèges, VOPERA, LPO, Reynolds online – Ravel and Colette reimagined

David Nice

Through the laptop screen and what the child found there, in a brilliant take on a classic

The Seven Deadly Sins, Opera North online review - viscerally thrilling

Jenny Gilbert

Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's indictment of capitalism in a vibrant new production

Ariodante, Royal Opera online review – stylish, but confined

David Nice

Accomplished ensemble tries its best to cross the footlights in livestream-only Handel

‘Our whole industry is supported by vulnerable freelance creators': Chen Reiss on the artist in a time of Coronavirus

Chen Reiss

The soprano, now on screen in the Royal Opera 'Ariodante', on recognition for performers

Bluebeard's Castle, LSO, Rattle, LSO St Luke's online review - slow-burning magnificence

Graham Rickson

Perfectly cast, perfectly played concert performance of Bartók’s early masterpiece

The Magic Flute, Glyndebourne review - deeply moving light in darkness

David Nice

Ninety minute concert staging showcases superb young singers

Meet the Young Artists Week recital, Linbury Theatre – four big personalities

David Nice

Frissons and high drama from Royal Opera acolytes in song

4/4, Royal Opera review – desire, loss and lunacy in four surprising acts

David Nice

Allan Clayton and Richard Jones are kings of bedlam, but the rest has high style too

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.

Close Footnote


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Christa Ludwig, 1928-2021: a selective tribute

I only saw Christa Ludwig twice live in concert, but those appearances epitomise her incredible dramatic and vocal rage as well as her peerless...

Points of Departure, Brighton Festival 2021 review - Ray Lee...

They stand in a row, nine of them, in a long, strange corridor between rows of stacked, palleted, planked wood and the red brick wall of an...

Album: Squid - Bright Green Field

It seems fitting that...

Rachel Whiteread: Internal Objects, Gagosian Gallery review...

Sheds have flourished in lockdown: they’ve always been...

Extract: Blackface by Ayanna Thompson

Nearly a year has passed since...

Album: Rag'n'Bone Man - Life by Misadventure

Rory Graham was always stoically familiar with life’s knocks. With a stage-name inspired by Galton and Simpson’s fatalistic...

Album: Van Morrison - Latest Record Project Volume 1

If you want to understand the psychic harm that prolonged ...

BBC Young Musician 2020 Finale, BBC Four review - poise vers...

“You have to be careful you’re not judging the piece,” cautioned a pearl-necklaced Nicholas Daniel, great oboist and winner of the 1980...

Blu-ray: Raw

Raw opens with a bang, a distant figure on a remote country road stepping out in front of a car, causing it to crash into a tree. What’s...