fri 14/08/2020

Opera reviews, news and interviews

The Encore, Opera Holland Park review - stylish return for a squad of old friends

Boyd Tonkin

As Dvořák’s "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka rose to its impassioned climax, Natalya Romaniw had to battle a helicopter thumping overhead. The helicopter lost (well, of course it did).

Heart's Delight, Opera Holland Park review - a classy hour of operetta pops

David Nice

Nostalgia of all kinds played a part in this summer evening’s divertissement. Some audience members were probably remembering when operetta held a greater sentimental sway than it does now; many would have been thinking of the full Opera Holland Park seasons – a proper theatre with raised seating, covered stagings, full orchestra and chorus – on what was now the bare terraced spot in front of the semi-derelict house.


Moses und Aron, Komische Oper Berlin, OperaVision...

Gavin Dixon

Barrie Kosky’s production of Moses und Aron was staged at the Komische Oper Berlin in 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of...

Elektra, Salzburg Festival, Arte review -...

David Nice

So much for the assertion that nowhere in the world would be staging the big Strauss and Wagner operas for the indefinite future. With a combination...

First Person: Antonia Bain on directing a short...

Antonia Bain

The Narcissistic Fish is a brand new opera specifically created to be filmed. Set in Leith and written in Scots, it tells the story of restaurant...

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

David Nice

Finally, you can be in the room, or space, where it happens in two east London venues

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

Bernard Hughes

Young London company offers snapshots of contemporary living

Classical music/Opera direct to home 17 - festive inventions

David Nice

Celebrating a maverick conductor, two great artists in recital and home-grown ingenuity

Don Giovanni/Sibelius plus, Swedish RSO, Harding, livestream review - dark studio rituals

David Nice

Vivid Mozart style from top cast and conductor, but concepts work only fitfully

Live from Covent Garden 1, Royal Opera and Ballet online review - small-scale but perfectly formed

David Nice

Clever programming from mastermind Antonio Pappano showcases best of British plus

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

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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