sat 23/03/2019

Opera reviews, news and interviews

La forza del destino, Royal Opera review - generous voices, dramatic voids

David Nice

When "Maestro" Riccardo Muti left the Royal Opera's previous production of Verdi's fate-laden epic, disgusted by minor changes to fit the scenery on the Covent Garden stage, no-one was sorry when Antonio Pappano, the true master of the house then only two years into his glorious reign, took over.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Birmingham Opera Company review - searing music-theatre for all

David Nice

A rum cove sidles up pimping with a tatty business card offering the services of Sonyetka. Not for me, I say, pointing out that in any case she’ll be dead three hours later. "That's more than I know," he says and wanders off to hook other possible clients. Further on, rodent-headed creatures flit by. One seems to be in an altercation with a Rentokil officer. Odd, too, that there should be policemen parading the disco-lit, dilipidated Tower Ballroom on the edge of Edgbaston Reservoir.


Idomeneo, English Touring Opera review – honest...

Boyd Tonkin

Selfish, cunning, cynical, the older generation has screwed up the world with aggression abroad and dishonesty at home. Can their children make it...

Robin Hood, The Opera Story, CLF Café review -...

Bernard Hughes

What’s the one thing everyone knows about Robin Hood? That he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. So it was quite a brave decision to re-cast...

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Guildhall School...

David Nice

It speaks vivid volumes for the superb health of our music colleges that the Guildhall School tackles every aspect of Britten's long and layered...

The Merry Widow, English National Opera review - glitter but no sparkle

Alexandra Coghlan

It's hard to know whether to mourn or celebrate this uneven production

Così fan tutte, Royal Opera review - fine singing and elegant deceits

Peter Quantrill

Metatheatrical devices turn the screw on Mozart’s not-so-funny comedy of manners

The Monstrous Child, Royal Opera, Linbury Theatre review - fresh operatic mythology for teenagers

Alexandra Coghlan

Move over Wagner, there's a new set of operatic gods in town

The Rite of Spring/Gianni Schicchi, Opera North review - unlikely but musically satisfying pairing

Graham Rickson

Odd-couple double bill of Stravinsky and Puccini with plenty to delight ear and eye

The Magic Flute, Welsh National Opera review - charming to hear, charmless to look at

Stephen Walsh

Mozart's pantomime about Nature and Reason stuck in a box

Brighton Festival 2019 launches with Guest Director Rokia Traoré

Thomas H Green

The south-coast's arts extravaganza reveals its 2019 line-up

Akhnaten, English National Opera review - still a mesmerising spectacle

Alexandra Coghlan

ENO's most successful contemporary opera ever makes a triumphant return

Un ballo in maschera, Welsh National Opera review - opera as brilliant self-parody

Stephen Walsh

Middle-period Verdi watchable, listenable and sometimes laughable

La Damnation de Faust, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - 'concert opera' indeed

Robert Beale

Vivid choral and orchestral sounds in a thrilling account of Berlioz masterpiece

Anthropocene, Hackney Empire review - vivid soundscapes but not quite enough thrills

Alexandra Coghlan

McRae's operatic eco-thriller gives the audience plenty to chew on

Katya Kabanova, Royal Opera review - inner torment incarnate

David Nice

Ruthless focus in production and central performance, not quite so much from the pit

Katya Kabanova, Opera North review – a grim tale

Robert Beale

High musical qualities in Janáček's tragedy of frustration and illicit love

Die Walküre, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - love shines out

David Nice

A fast-beating heart serves Wagner's second Ring opera well

'Bringing things to life is what opera is all about': Robert Howarth on a 'Magic Flute' with a difference

Robert Howarth

Opera North's Mozart conductor on taking a careful look at a masterpiece

The Queen of Spades, Royal Opera review - uneven cast prey to overthought concept

David Nice

Two stories painstakingly interwoven, but the dark heart of Tchaikovsky/Pushkin falters

Best of 2018: Opera

David Nice

A year more remarkable for high musical values than any wealth of great UK productions

Hänsel und Gretel, Royal Opera review - not quite hungry enough

David Nice

Three top voices and vivacious conducting aren't enough to set fairytale juices flowing

Gianni Schicchi/Suor Angelica, RNCM, Manchester review – music does the magic

Robert Beale

A new and impressive approach to college opera performance

Candide, LSO, Alsop, Barbican review - nearly the best of all possible...

Jessica Duchen

Bernstein centenary reaches a smashing conclusion with a flawed masterpiece

theartsdesk in Brno: Czech 100th feted through Janáček and Smetana

David Nice

Rarities in a festival featuring an entire operatic canon, plus heartfelt celebrations

'I’ve told everyone that it’s a comedy – but will anyone laugh?' Jonathan Dove on his new Marx opera

Jonathan Dove

Top British composer awaits Bonn premiere of his new work about a German in London

L'heure espagnole, Mid Wales Opera review - Ravel goes like clockwork

Richard Bratby

Ravel's clock shop farce ticks along delightfullyr in a small production big on character

theartsdesk in Gothenburg - Wagner's gold turns green

Boyd Tonkin

Stephen Langridge talks about his eco-friendly Swedish 'Ring'

War Requiem, English National Opera review - a striking spectacle, but oddly unmoving

Alexandra Coghlan

A sober and dignified production fails to add value to Britten's score

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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