thu 05/08/2021

Opera reviews, news and interviews

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

David Nice

The love of power corrupts, the power of love falters or fails.

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

David Nice

“Time-travelling” is how Enrique Mazzola, the superb first conductor of Glyndebourne’s last new production of the main season, described the slow-burn trajectory of Verdi’s semi-masterpiece Luisa Miller in his First Person here on theartsdesk.


The Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival...

Stephen Walsh

There are advantages and disadvantages about opera-in-the-round, and it’s a format that suits some operas better than others. Longborough’s Cunning...

First Person: conductor Enrique Mazzola on Verdi...

Enrique Mazzola

It is difficult to know why some operas succeed while others remain unknown. The reasons can be emotional or historical, or it might be as simple as...

Opera in Song, Opera Holland Park review – world-...

David Nice

Now that the summer opera-house companies have pulled off staged triumphs under the most difficult of circumstances, it’s time to celebrate semi-al-...

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

Die Walküre, Longborough Festival Opera review - heroic defiance of farcical constraints

Stephen Walsh

Wagner cut down to size refuses to shrink

Il turco in Italia, Glyndebourne review – who knew 1950s neorealism could be such fun?

Sebastian Scotney

Trust, teamwork and comic invention combine to make a winner

Káťa Kabanová, Glyndebourne review - a misalliance of metatheatre and the mundane

David Nice

Singing, playing and conducting urge emotion, production shuts it down

Current, Rising, Royal Opera House review - a joyful celebration of storytelling possibility

Alexandra Coghlan

An exciting technological experiment with a nice soundtrack attached

La clemenza di Tito, Royal Opera review - light and dark in near-perfect balance

David Nice

Mozart's hard-to-pace, musically masterful coronation opera has the right team

Europe Day Concert, St John's Smith Square online review – celebrating in style

Jessica Duchen

Portuguese tenor Luis Gomes shines bright in a lively multinational programme

Christa Ludwig, 1928-2021: a selective tribute

David Nice

The German mezzo-soprano embraced the light and the dark at a transcendental level

The Seven Deadly Sins / Mahagonny Songspiel, Royal Opera online - modern morality tales mesh uneasily

David Nice

More time needed in knocking this fascinating Brecht/Weill double bill into shape

L'heure espagnole, Grange Park Opera online review - seduction and sandwiches in 60 minutes

Richard Bratby

Ravel takes a Kensington lunchbreak, in an operatic updating for the YouTube generation

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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