sun 22/05/2022

Opera reviews, news and interviews

The Wreckers, Glyndebourne review - no masterpiece, but vividly sung and played

David Nice

Interesting for the history of music, but not for music? Passing acquaintance with Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers, a grand opera by a woman at a time (the early 1900s) when circumstances made such a thing near-impossible, had suggested so.

'How that music was created remains to me a complete mystery': John Tomlinson on fellow Lancastrian Harrison Birtwistle

John Tomlinson

It has been a difficult couple of years for us in the world of opera, losing several of our most respected and admired colleagues who have inspired us over several decades.


Fidelio, Insula Orchestra, Barbican review -...

Boyd Tonkin

Thanks to the pandemic, the planned tidal surge of Fidelio productions never quite happened during Beethoven’s anniversary year of 2020. Instead, the...

Mavra/Pierrot Lunaire, Linbury Theatre review -...

Alexandra Coghlan

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it domestic farce and a fever-dream fantasy of a song-cycle: Stravinsky’s Mavra (1922) and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (1912...

Serse, The English Concert, St Martin-in-the-...

David Nice

You know great singing when you hear it. In Handel, for me, that was when Lucy Crowe took over a Göttingen gala back in 2013; in Mozart, most...

Lohengrin, Royal Opera review - a timely return to warzone Brabant

Gavin Dixon

Uneven casting for this first revival, but Jakub Hrůša shines at the podium

The Handmaid's Tale, English National Opera review - a red-hot classic for our times

Jessica Duchen

Overwhelming power in Annilese Miskimmon's new production of Poul Ruders's opera

Oberto, Chelsea Opera Group, Cadogan Hall review - Verdi’s first opera bounces into life

David Nice

Four strongly taken main roles and lively conducting make this a winner

The Gondoliers, Scottish Opera, Hackney Empire review - G&S con amore

David Nice

Sunniest of the Savoy masterpieces enjoys full measure from a stylish ensemble

Rigoletto, Opera North review - Covid shocks, debut pleasures

David Nice

Plague strikes the Duke of Mantua's court, but two young South Africans step up

Opera Triple Bill, Royal Academy Opera review - three centuries of female suffering

Alexandra Coghlan

This operatic triptych never quite finds its footing

The Miserly Knight / Mavra, Scottish Opera review - a bold double act in the heart of Scotland

Christopher Lambton

Rare Rachmaninov and Stravinsky one-act operas play for one night only, in Perth

St John Passion, English Touring Opera, Lichfield Cathedral review - free-range Bach doesn't quite add up

Richard Bratby

Fresh musical values transcend diffuse direction as sacred drama hits the road

Peter Grimes, Royal Opera review - impressive, not quite devastating

David Nice

Handsomely sung, played and staged, this production just misses the heart of darkness

Jenůfa, Welsh National Opera review - powerful drama with a kitsch tailpiece

Stephen Walsh

Taut, stylish Janáček marred by annoying details

The Telephone / Miss Fortune, Guildhall School review - brilliantly-executed double bill

David Nice

Gian Carlo Menotti and Judith Weir conjoined by superlative young talent

The Golden Cockerel, English Touring Opera review - no crowing over this henhouse

David Nice

It’s a turkey, but Rimsky-Korsakov is not to blame

Rigoletto, Royal Opera review - second time lucky

David Nice

Oliver Mears’ production, new in September, now has a compelling jester and master

The Cunning Little Vixen, English National Opera review - half-realised men and beasts

David Nice

Lack of pace and focus can’t sink Janáček’s paean to the natural order

Don Giovanni, Welsh National Opera review - fine young cast let down by unhelpful conducting

Stephen Walsh

Greatness of Mozart shines through the polyphonic muddle

Alcina, Opera North review - flat update redeemed by excellent vocal performances

Graham Rickson

Musically enjoyable but visually prosaic staging, low on magic

Bajazet, Irish National Opera, Linbury Theatre review – robust but a bit rough

David Nice

11 instrumentalists make Vivaldi rock, the shenanigans on stage not so much

Theodora, Royal Opera review - God, love, sex, death - and terrorism

David Nice

Katie Mitchell's staging of a late Handel oratorio works well, but acting trumps singing

Total Immersion: Music for the End of Time review - miracles from the house of the dead

David Nice

Czech-Jewish composers murdered by the Nazis live again in magnificent performances

First Person: Femi Elufowoju Jr. on directing Verdi's 'Rigoletto'

Femi Elufowoju Jr

A theatre director's take on his first opera as he rehearses in Leeds

Nabucco, Royal Opera review - high passion but low drama

Gavin Dixon

Atmospheric but ambiguous production, given extra weight by cast of rich voices

Le nozze di Figaro, Royal Opera review - New Year champagne

David Nice

Perfect ensembles and recits with Antonio Pappano's return as conductor and fortepianist

Best of 2021: Opera

David Nice

Only seven and a half months of live performance, but what riches under pressure

Zingari/Tosca Suite, Opera Rara, Rizzi, Cadogan Hall review - symphonic mastery and fluent hokum

David Nice

Top singers and orchestra deliver the goods in Leoncavallo's fast-moving melodrama

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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