fri 17/09/2021

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Rigoletto, Royal Opera review - routine clouds the best in this season opener

David Nice

Another season, another new production of Verdi’s nastiest masterpiece. For which we should be profoundly grateful after the tribulations of the last 18 months. Yet how quickly elements of the routine can corrode the soul of the spectator, just as fresh, urgent communication can set it alight.

Summer seasons in a Covid world: five opera company movers and shakers reflect


The bleakest time of all for live music during the Covid crisis came in the first four and a half months of this year.


The Barber of Seville, Welsh National Opera...

Stephen Walsh

Welcome back, WNO! Yes, emphatically, and with a loud hurrah, which is precisely what the company received, and rightly received, from the somewhat...

Tristan und Isolde, Glyndebourne, BBC Proms...

David Nice

“Now I’ve conducted Tristan for the first time,” the 27-year-old Richard Strauss wrote from Weimar to Wagner’s widow Cosima in 1892, “and it was the...

Ariadne auf Naxos, Edinburgh International...

Douglas McDonald

This lively interpretation of Richard Strauss’s opera within an opera provides a feast for the senses as a musical highlight of the Edinburgh...

theartsdesk at the Birgit Nilsson Days - the rich legacy of a farm girl turned diva

David Nice

The greatest of sopranos who never forgot her roots lives on in her successors

Remembering Graham Vick (1953-2021) - top colleagues on one of the greatest opera directors


Five singers, a conductor and a casting director recall an irreplaceable visionary

A Night at the Opera, BBC Philharmonic, Glassberg, BBC Proms review - six of the best

Jessica Duchen

Operatic plums plus, possibly over-curated but gorgeously sung

Hansel and Gretel, British Youth Opera review - chaotic rewrite of a classic opera misses the mark

Alexandra Coghlan

Trading fantasy for banal reality, this fairytale forgets to bring the emotion

RhineGold, Birmingham Opera Company, Symphony Hall review - music-drama at the highest level

David Nice

Magnificent cast of singer-actors and full orchestra honour the late Graham Vick’s vision

Luisa Miller, Glyndebourne review – small-scale tragedy, big emotions

David Nice

Bold casting includes a sensational main-season debut from soprano Mané Galoyan

The Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival Opera review - life, death and the menopause in the forest

Stephen Walsh

Janáček's strip cartoon engagingly directed and sung, orchestrally problematic

First Person: conductor Enrique Mazzola on Verdi's time-travelling 'Luisa Miller'

Enrique Mazzola

Notes from the musician who knows Glyndebourne's last main-season production best

Opera in Song, Opera Holland Park review – world-class singers in a brilliant recital triptych

David Nice

Baritone Julien Van Mellaerts and pianist Dylan Perez programme a winning mini-festival

Le Comte Ory, Garsington Opera review - high musical style and broad dramatic comedy

David Nice

Rossini can take the high jinks of Cal McCrystal in a deliciously cast romp

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance, Royal Opera review – breathtaking young talent

David Nice

Nine superb voices, with varying degrees of polish, in four operatic scenes

Il ritorno d'Ulisse, Longborough Festival Opera review - gods and grunge on the long journey home

Richard Bratby

Monteverdi in the round - a grungy, messy, very human Odyssey

L'amico Fritz, Opera Holland Park review - slow-burning love, Italian style

David Nice

Conductor Beatrice Venezi and tenor Matteo Lippi kindle a Mascagni rarity

The Barber of Seville, Clonter Opera Theatre review - youthful enthusiasm triumphs

Robert Beale

Cheshire opera farm proves its resourcefulness again

The Cunning Little Vixen, Opera Holland Park review - imagine the forest, enjoy the music-making

David Nice

Conductor Jessica Cottis, Jennifer France's Vixen and Julia Sporsén's Fox shine

Dido’s Ghost, Buxton International Festival review - the Queen of Carthage returns

Robert Beale

Errollyn Wallen’s take on Purcell brilliantly splices rock and baroque

The Dancing Master, Buxton International Festival review - doing it on the radio

Robert Beale

Snappy rhythms and lovely tunes make a ‘lost’ opera by Malcolm Arnold live again

A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Grange Festival review - heroic comedy in hard times

David Nice

Rough-edged but recognizably Britten’s creation, this show has gone on against the odds

Amadigi, Garsington Opera review – geometries of enchantment

Boyd Tonkin

A bold abstract setting for Handel's gloriously human score

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2021 Final, BBC Four review – an embarrassment of vocal riches

David Nice

This year’s choice wasn’t easy – but Korean baritone Gihoon Kim deserved the prize

Ivan the Terrible, Grange Park Opera review - from tsar to Stalin in five lopsided scenes

David Nice

David Pountney's fusion of two Rimsky-Korsakov cod-history lessons leaps the centuries

Der Rosenkavalier, Garsington Opera review - musical marvels, drama less often fulfilled

David Nice

Classy singing, conducting and playing, directorial holes in bold shot at rococo Strauss

La traviata, Opera Holland Park review – a revival in rude health

Boyd Tonkin

Rodula Gaitanou's production roars back with splendid singing and emotional conviction

Eugene Onegin, Garsington Opera review - choral and orchestral opulence for Tchaikovsky

David Nice

How much we've missed in a year is exemplified in aspects of this hit-and-miss show

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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