tue 26/05/2020

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Classical Music/Opera direct to home 12 - partying at a distance

David Nice

What would have been the festival season starts around now. Some organisations are offering mementos of past glories; others, especially in countries where the lockdown has been relaxed to a greater extent than is possible in the UK, are managing to assemble some of their artists in audience-free auditoriums, playng and singing to you online. All are under varying degrees of financial stress and many may not relaunch; help where you can with donations every now and then.

The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, Dutch National Opera, OperaVision review - fairy-tale good and evil made real

David Nice

How do you render pure goodness interesting? Unorthodox director Dmitri Tcherniakov and radiant young soprano Svetlana Ignatovich make us smile and break our hearts with their take on the maiden Fevroniya: living at one with nature, seeing God in everything and destroyed by her encounter with civic life.


Avoiding meltdown from lockdown: Michael Chance...

Michael Chance

Where to start? We at The Grange Festival began in mid-March (the 15th) with a letter to our company, all those few hundred who come and work for us...

Sadko, Bolshoi Opera online review - medieval...

Gavin Dixon

Russia came late to the coronavirus lockdown, and will be leaving early – this evening Vladimir Putin announced that national measures were...

Eugene Onegin, Komische Oper, OperaVision review...

Alexandra Coghlan

Liberated from Pushkin’s salons, ballrooms and bedrooms, Barrie Kosky’s Eugene Onegin bursts out into nature. Tatyana and Olga lounge in the long...

Metropolitan Opera At-Home Gala livestream review - classy joy and sorrow in domestic settings

David Nice

Top voices giving generously to raise funds in often dodgy Skyped sound

Classical Music/Opera direct to home 8 - from troubled royal rituals to a lone cellist

David Nice

Pick of the week's best pre-recorded operas and livestream comings-together

Elektra/Der Rosenkavalier, Nightly Met Opera Streams review - searing hits and indulgent misses

David Nice

Challenging direction, great conducting and luxury casting in New York Strauss

Classical Music/Opera direct to home 6 - Parsifals for Easter

David Nice

Enlightenment through compassion takes a strange route in three Wagner productions

The Rake's Progress, Complicité online review - well-projected journey from pastoral to madhouse

David Nice

Big, bold approach to time-travelling Stravinsky misses out on nuance

The Turn of the Screw, Opera North, OperaVision review - claustrophobic visions of terror and beauty

David Nice

Strongly-cast revival keeps the ambiguities of Henry James's ghost story in play

Le nozze di Figaro, Garsington Opera, OperaVision review - natural comedy, musical sublimity

David Nice

Durable period setting enshrines perfect characterisations. Plus a Handel special

Classical music/Opera direct to home: 3 - Two Jenůfas

David Nice

If you want searing music-drama, Janáček's are the place to start - but choose carefully

Sondheim at 90 Songs: 2 - 'Epiphany'/'A Little Priest'

David Nice

Is there a better climax to a musical first act than the terror-plus-wit in 'Sweeney Todd'?

The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera review - energised attitudes, lower-level humanism

David Nice

Accomplished singer-actors keep an emotional hole at bay

Susanna, Royal Opera/London Handel Festival review - fitful shinings

David Nice

UnHandelian star quality from Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha saves this endurance test

Fidelio, Royal Opera review - fitfully vivid singing in a dramatic void

David Nice

Davidsen and Kaufmann don't disappoint, but Beethoven's music-theatre goes for nothing

Cosi fan tutte, English Touring Opera review - a blissful, uncomplicated delight

Alexandra Coghlan

A youthful romp of a production brings the sunshine back to Mozart's complicated comedy

Nixon in China, Scottish Opera - musical chatter, poetic banality

Christopher Lambton

Three decades on from its UK premiere in Edinburgh, how does John Adams' first opera fare?

Denis and Katya, Music Theatre Wales / Uproar, Rafferty review - disturbing the untroubled monotony of South Wales music

Stephen Walsh

New Venables and Huffman opera as reality TV and new music in a dry land

Luisa Miller, English National Opera review - Verdi in translation makes a stylish comeback

David Nice

Musical splendours peak in a tenor aria to die for and a moving last act

theartsdesk Q&A: soprano Elizabeth Llewellyn

David Nice

Returning to ENO to sing Verdi's Luisa Miller, a great singer-actor reflects

Les vêpres siciliennes, Welsh National Opera review - spectacular, silly, but some great music

Stephen Walsh

Verdi's reluctant grand opera colourfully staged, brilliantly played, unevenly sung

Alice's Adventures Under Ground, Royal Opera review - a blast for children of all ages

David Nice

Gerald Barry's manic dash through two Lewis Carroll classics has a staging worthy of it

Ermonela Jaho, Stephen Maughan, Wigmore Hall review – emotional honesty in rare repertoire

Sebastian Scotney

An innate sense of pacing and dramatic timing in the Albanian soprano's recital

Siegfried, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - an incandescent journey to the mountain top

David Nice

Varying degrees of vocal characterisation, but the playing is breathtakingly detailed

Street Scene, Opera North review - a true ensemble achievement

Robert Beale

Youth to the fore in Kurt Weill’s brilliant ‘Broadway opera’

Sukanya, RFH review - Ravi Shankar's bright-eyed, varied fable

David Nice

Fine performances, but crude miking suggests this would work better as a chamber opera

prisoner of the state, Barbican review - beauty, but where is the drama?

Alexandra Coghlan

David Lang's efficient homage to Beethoven can't eclipse the original

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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