thu 29/09/2022

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Aida, Royal Opera review - dour but disciplined

David Nice

No gods, ancient Egyptian or otherwise; no sinister priest along the lines of Russia’s antichrist Patriarch Kiriil, sending soldiers to their deaths with the promise of heaven. Military ritual under what looks like a Russian/Chinese flag prevails in Robert Carsen’s severe take on Aida, more rigid than Verdi’s surprisingly unified late score - a musical masterpiece if not a dramatic one.

The Makropulos Affair, Welsh National Opera review - complexity realised brilliantly on the stage

Stephen Walsh

What, anyway, is The Makropulos Case all about? Is it simply about the horrors of unnatural longevity; or does it expose the limitations of the rational mind confronted by the irrational; is it about love of a distorted ideal, like some updated Hoffmann tale?


La rondine, If Opera review - a bold opening...

Alexandra Coghlan

Covid has been devastating for all the arts, but especially opera – the riskiest and most expensive gamble of the lot. And it doesn’t seem to be...

Saul, The English Concert, Butt, Edinburgh...

Simon Thompson

It’s not an opera, of course, but of all Handel’s oratorios, Saul is probably the one that is best suited to being presented as an actual drama....

Patience, Charles Court Opera, Wilton's...

David Nice

“Twenty lovesick maidens we,” pining in stained-glass attitudes for florid poet Reginald Bunthorne, usually kick off Gilbert and Sullivan’s delicious...

Sir John in Love, British Youth Opera review - a delicious end-of-summer treat

Alexandra Coghlan

A rare operatic staging marks Vaughan Williams' 150th anniversary

First Persons: Glyndebourne's sustainability advisers Sara and Jeremy Eppel on creating eco-friendly opera

Sara And Jeremy Eppel

This season's production of 'The Wreckers' leads the way towards net zero

First Person: Michael Volpe on the utopian thinking behind his new If Opera company

Michael Volpe

Bold aims for country-house opera with a difference

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

Christopher Lambton

Malin Byström offers presence and power as Strauss and Wilde's sex-crazed princess

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

David Nice

Visual and aural beauty, strong performances, in a stunning double-bill from Laurent Pelly

Rusalka, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - sumptuous rendition of a watery fable

Christopher Lambton

Total triumph for replacement water-nymph Elin Pritchard

theartsdesk at the Bayreuth Festival Ring 2022 - a jumbled mess of ideas, some of them compelling

Gavin Dixon

A Tarantino-style Ring cycle offers many inspired scenes, but little coherence or depth

Utopia, Limited, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company review - bounded rapture

Richard Bratby

Savoy turkey almost flies, in a spirited new staging

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

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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