tue 16/08/2022

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Salome, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Gardner, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - orchestral majesty triumphs

Christopher Lambton

It is quite some years, if not decades, since the Edinburgh Interntional Festival had any claim to be a festival of staged opera. This year we have had just one – Garsington Opera’s bewitching Rusalka – surrounded by a handful of concert performances: Beethoven’s Fidelio with the Philharmonia under Donald Runnicles, Handel’s Saul (yet to come), and Sunday evening’s Salome.

La Voix humaine/Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Glyndebourne review - phantasmagorical wonders

David Nice

“Variety is the spice of life! Vive la difference!,” chirrups the ensemble at the end of this giddying double bill. And there could hardly be more singular variety acts than a potential suicide at the end of a phone line, a woman who lets her breasts fly away and grows a beard, and a husband who breeds 40,049 children on his own.


Rusalka, Edinburgh International Festival 2022...

Christopher Lambton

The last-minute indisposition of your leading lady is enough to give festival directors palpitations, let alone their audiences, now forewarned by...

theartsdesk at the Bayreuth Festival Ring 2022 -...

Gavin Dixon

It is mid-way through the new Ring cycle, and we are taking lunch outside the old town hall on the high street in Bayreuth. Discussion at...

Utopia, Limited, National Gilbert & Sullivan...

Richard Bratby

Joseph Heller grew tired of being told that he’d never written anything as good as Catch 22. ‘Who has?’, he'd retort. In the same spirit, it’s...

Spell Book/La liberazione di Ruggiero dell'isola di Alcina, Longborough Festival review - the pitfalls of diversity

Stephen Walsh

Music of charm or character not always trusted in its presentation

Prom 13, The Wreckers, Glyndebourne review - an overloaded ship steered with pride

Boyd Tonkin

Ethel Smyth's grand melodrama stays seaworthy - in parts

Margot La Rouge/Le Villi, Opera Holland Park review – Parisian fancies and Black Forest gâteau

Boyd Tonkin

A double helping of rarities makes for an enjoyable, outlandish menu

Prom 7, Dido and Aeneas, La Nuova Musica review - bold and original from the start

Rachel Halliburton

Levity as well as sadness from David Bates' ensemble, searing intensity from Alice Coote

La donna del lago, Buxton International Festival 2022 review - Rossini’s romanticism for today

Robert Beale

A taut and tension-filled presentation with classy casting

The Turn of the Screw, Garsington Opera review - terrors and tragedy

David Nice

All-round intensity in Britten’s suppurating take on Henry James's ghost story

Alcina, Glyndebourne review - Handel on the strand

Stephen Walsh

High quality singing and playing on a dubiously coloured stage

Così fan tutte, Royal Opera review - vibrant youth and vocal beauty

David Nice

Lithe cast and conducting unfazed by over-egged production, at least until the bitter end

theartsdesk in Zurich - forging a brilliant new Ring

David Nice

Gianandrea Noseda, Andreas Homoki and top cast dazzle in an unforgettable 'Rheingold'

theartsdesk Q&A: bass-baritone Christopher Purves on communicating everything from Handel to George Benjamin

David Nice

The great singing actor on his best experiences - including Zurich Opera's new Ring

Violet, Music Theatre Wales/Britten-Pears Arts review - well sung and played, but to what end?

David Nice

Anna Dennis shines, but composer Tom Coult and librettist Alice Birch play at anti-opera

Die tote Stadt, Longborough Festival review - Korngold on the way back

Stephen Walsh

Brilliant 1920 opera that might have shown the way forward

Otello, Grange Park Opera review - angels and demons

Boyd Tonkin

A charismatic Iago and radiant Desdemona anchor Verdi's tragedy

Eugene Onegin, Opera Holland Park Young Artists review - intimacy and reflection

Gavin Dixon

Fresh cast excels in Tchaikovsky’s tale of passion and honour

La bohème, Glyndebourne review - a masterpiece in monochrome

Miranda Heggie

Floris Visser's minimalist new production lets the richness of Puccini's work shine

Maria Stuarda, Irish National Opera review – two queens sing for the crown, with spectacular results

David Nice

Anna Devin and Tara Erraught excel as English Elizabeth and Scottish Mary

Tamerlano, The Grange Festival review - Handel brilliant in parts, but you have to wait for the drama

Stephen Walsh

Bravura singing but static production until the climax

The Excursions of Mr Brouček, Grange Park Opera review - biting satire from bouncing Czechs

Jessica Duchen

David Pountney brings zany fantasy to a rare staging of Janáček's weirdest work

Orfeo ed Euridice, Blackwater Valley Opera Festival review - heavenly possibilities, devils at work in the details

David Nice

Talented team of singers, players and dancers at the mercy of capricious circumstances

Così fan tutte, Garsington Opera review - gambling with the highest stakes

Peter Quantrill

Serious fun in a shrewd staging of this 'School for Lovers'

Parsifal, Opera North review - full focus and a dream line-up

Robert Beale

Bold touches and thrilling high points in Wagner’s 'stage consecration festival play'

Siegfried, Longborough Festival review - happily concept-free but with 'Good Ideas'

Stephen Walsh

Conductor Anthony Negus more than ever on top of strongly cast Wagner

Madama Butterfly, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - an opera masterclass

Robert Beale

Sir Mark Elder brings the Hallé season to its close with wizardry in Puccini

Samson et Dalila, Royal Opera review - from austerity to excess, with visual rigour and aural beauty

David Nice

Peerless mezzo and conductor, promising tenor at the heart of this hard-to-stage hybrid

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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