wed 19/06/2024

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Il Trittico, Welsh National Opera review - another triumph for a hard-pressed company

Stephen Walsh

It’s somehow typical of the Welsh National Opera I’ve known now for the best part of sixty years that it should confront its current funding difficulties with brilliant productions of two of the more challenging works in the repertory.

The Merry Widow, Glyndebourne review - fun and frolics in the Embassy

Stephen Walsh

Why would anyone want to stage a work like The Merry Widow in this day and age? Silly question. It’s the music, stupid. Of course, it’s an entertaining story and there are some good jokes. But I'd bet that if Heuberger had composed the music to this libretto, as he started doing, instead of Franz Lehár, who took it on afterwards, I wouldn't now be writing about Cal McCrystal’s new Glyndebourne production, or anyone else’s for that matter.


Giulio Cesare, Blackwater Valley Opera Festival...

David Nice

Recreating Handel’s Egypt with a first-rate cast on the summer opera scene could have been the exclusive domain of Glyndebourne, bringing back its...

Tosca, Opera Holland Park review - passion and...

Boyd Tonkin

Set in a tensely polarised Roman neighbourhood, with an election in the offing and radicals scrapping with reactionaries under poster-plastered walls...

Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne review - cornucopia...

Rachel Halliburton

Five years after it first clattered onto the Glyndebourne stage, André Barbe and Renaud Doucet’s visually exuberant Die Zauberflöte – featuring...

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Carmen, Glyndebourne review - total musical fusion

David Nice

Production tells the story, mostly, but it’s the lead and the conductor who electrify

L'Olimpiade, Irish National Opera review - Vivaldi's long-distance run sustained by perfect teamwork

David Nice

Sporting confusions and star-crossed lovers clarified by vivacious singing and playing

Remembering conductor Andrew Davis (1944-2024)


Fellow conductors, singers, instrumentalists and administrators recall a true Mensch

Götterdämmerung, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - outside looking and listening in, always with fascination

David Nice

Every orchestral phrase and colour perfect, vocal drama often a notch below

Simon Boccanegra, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - thrilling, magnificent exploration

Robert Beale

Verdi’s original version of the opera brought to exciting life

Aci by the River, London Handel Festival, Trinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse review - myths for the #MeToo age

Boyd Tonkin

Star singers shine in a Handel rarity

Carmen, Royal Opera review - strong women, no sexual chemistry and little stage focus

David Nice

Damiano Michieletto's new production of Bizet’s masterpiece is surprisingly invertebrate

La scala di seta, RNCM review - going heavy on the absinthe?

Robert Beale

Rossini’s one-acter helps young performers find their talents to amuse

Death In Venice, Welsh National Opera review - breathtaking Britten

Mark Kidel

Sublime Olivia Fuchs production of a great operatic swansong

Salome, Irish National Opera review - imaginatively charted journey to the abyss

David Nice

Sinéad Campbell Wallace's corrupted princess stuns in Bruno Ravella's production

Jenůfa, English National Opera review - searing new cast in precise revival

David Nice

Jennifer Davis and Susan Bullock pull out all the stops in Janáček's moving masterpiece

theartsdesk in Strasbourg: crossing the frontiers

Boyd Tonkin

'Lohengrin' marks a remarkable singer's arrival on Planet Wagner

Giant, Linbury Theatre review - a vision fully realised

David Nice

Sarah Angliss serves a haunting meditation on the strange meeting of giant and surgeon

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera review - compellingly lucid with an austere visual beauty

Rachel Halliburton

Bryn Terfel's Dutchman is a subtly vampiric figure in this otherworldly interpretation

The Magic Flute, English National Opera review - return of an enchanted evening

Boyd Tonkin

Simon McBurney's dark pantomime casts its spell again

Così fan tutte, Welsh National Opera review - relevance reduced to irrelevance

Stephen Walsh

School for lovers not much help to the singers

Manon Lescaut, English Touring Opera review - a nightmare in too many ways

Boyd Tonkin

Grotesque staging sabotages Puccini's breakthrough tragedy

Marx in London, Scottish Opera review - the humour of history made manifest

Miranda Heggie

A capital production of an unexpectedly comic opera

Cavalleria Rusticana/Aleko, Opera North review - a new foil for Mascagni

Robert Beale

Overlapping casting in two tragedies of infidelity and jealousy

Così fan tutte, Opera North review - a safe bet

Robert Beale

Voices and personalities in balance and contrast in revived Albery production

The Handmaid's Tale, English National Opera review - last chance saloon for sub-Atwood baggy monster

David Nice

Kate Lindsey is the saving, amazing grace of Poul Ruders’ lumpy music drama

Elektra, Royal Opera review - moral: don’t wait too long for revenge

David Nice

A great soprano now struggles with the toughest of roles

Albert Herring, Opera North review - immersive and intimate fun

Robert Beale

A gifted cast enliven Britten’s comedy of English village life

Jenůfa, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review - a variegated but gorgeous bouquet

David Nice

Iron fist in velvet glove for Janáček's tale of horror and hope in a rural community

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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