mon 27/05/2019

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Donnerstag aus Licht, Pascal, RFH review – indulgent genius at work

Peter Quantrill

What happens on the stage of Stockhausen’s first opera would fill a book – quite a bad novel – but the plot is simple enough. Michael grows up with a domineering, game-hunting father and mentally unstable mother; discovers sex; passes his exams; travels the globe and finds his calling in life as a visionary and saviour.

First Person: Conductor Maxime Pascal on Stockhausen at the Southbank Centre

Maxime Pascal

Stockhausen stands alongside Monteverdi and Beethoven as a composer who exploded the understanding of his art. Stockhausen deeply changed the relationship between space, time and music; there’s a human, intimate dimension to his composition, and he predicted the future.


La Damnation de Faust, Glyndebourne review –...

Peter Quantrill

Mid-career, moving ever further away from composing for concert platform and church towards the stage, Berlioz found himself unsure where his take on...

Phaedra, Linbury Theatre review - from confusing...

David Nice

Leaving a revival performance of Harrison Birtwistle's The Minotaur, a friend asked Hans Werner Henze, also in the audience, that dreaded question: "...

Win a Luxury Weekend for Two to Celebrate...


Brighton Festival is the UK’s leading annual celebration of the arts, with events taking place in venues both familiar and unusual across Brighton...

Semele, Monteverdi Choir, EBS, Gardiner, Alexandra Palace review - Handel's cornucopia lavishly served

David Nice

No 'secular oratorio' in these hands, but an ultimately electrifying opera

Aida, Opera North review - militarism soundly subverted

Robert Beale

Annabel Arden’s vision and Richard Armstrong’s conducting make a powerful mix

'The orchestra becomes the landscape': Annabel Arden on Opera North's concert staging of Aida

Annabel Arden

The director on Verdi's late masterpiece in a war-torn contemporary setting

Billy Budd, Royal Opera review - Britten's drama of good and evil too much at sea

David Nice

Peerless protagonist among a crew sometimes lost on an infinite stage

SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill, Isango Ensemble, Linbury Theatre - evocative and essential lyric theatre

David Nice

Compelling fantasia about black South Africans drowned in a World War One disaster

Faust, Royal Opera review - fusty Gounod still dances

David Nice

Lively conducting and a last-minute replacement keep this hellish cabaret on its toes

Franco Fagioli, Il Pomo d’Oro, Birmingham Town Hall review - flair and flamboyance

Miranda Heggie

Virtuoso countertenor shines in music from Handel and his contemporaries

The Pilgrim’s Progress, RNCM, Manchester review – a theatrical triumph

Robert Beale

Re-imagining Bunyan’s story as a parable of the First World War

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel, English National Opera review - powerful ensemble, wrong subject

David Nice

Six strong sopranos and a still promising composer lost in a pointless labyrinth

Berenice, Royal Opera/London Handel Festival review - luminous shenanigans in the Linbury

David Nice

One fierce queen and a glorious Roman prince in a well-drilled ensemble

In the spirit of the composer as innovator: Samir Savant on the London Handel Festival

Samir Savant

The director presents a month of enterprising events

Elizabeth I/Macbeth, English Touring Opera review - elegance and eeriness

Richard Bratby

Heroism and horror in a pair of impressive ensemble performances

La forza del destino, Royal Opera review - generous voices, dramatic voids

David Nice

Generalised star turns from Kaufmann and Netrebko defuse Pappano's musical drama

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Birmingham Opera Company review - searing music-theatre for all

David Nice

Bloodied brides and rat-heads run amok in visceral ballroom Shostakovich

Idomeneo, English Touring Opera review – honest excellence

Boyd Tonkin

Strong singing and fuss-free direction do justice to Mozart's dark masterpiece

Robin Hood, The Opera Story, CLF Café review - folk hero re-imagined as Tory villain

Bernard Hughes

The plot is over-stuffed, but this new opera has some riveting moments

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Guildhall School review - earthy, energetic Britten

David Nice

An energetic cast of quality voices meshes happily with bracing instrumental magic

The Merry Widow, English National Opera review - glitter but no sparkle

Alexandra Coghlan

It's hard to know whether to mourn or celebrate this uneven production

Così fan tutte, Royal Opera review - fine singing and elegant deceits

Peter Quantrill

Metatheatrical devices turn the screw on Mozart’s not-so-funny comedy of manners

The Monstrous Child, Royal Opera, Linbury Theatre review - fresh operatic mythology for teenagers

Alexandra Coghlan

Move over Wagner, there's a new set of operatic gods in town

The Rite of Spring/Gianni Schicchi, Opera North review - unlikely but musically satisfying pairing

Graham Rickson

Odd-couple double bill of Stravinsky and Puccini with plenty to delight ear and eye

The Magic Flute, Welsh National Opera review - charming to hear, charmless to look at

Stephen Walsh

Mozart's pantomime about Nature and Reason stuck in a box

Brighton Festival 2019 launches with Guest Director Rokia Traoré

Thomas H Green

The south-coast's arts extravaganza reveals its 2019 line-up

Akhnaten, English National Opera review - still a mesmerising spectacle

Alexandra Coghlan

ENO's most successful contemporary opera ever makes a triumphant return

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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