tue 29/09/2020

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Fidelio, Garsington Opera review - heart of darkness, light-filled liberation

David Nice

It may be only six and a half months since many of us saw a production of Beethoven’s Fidelio in the opera house, but that was another world, and this post-lockdown admittance to Garsington Opera’s spacious, award-winning pavilion with its impressive acoustic was always going to be something extraordinary.

Eavesdropping on Rattle, the LSO and Bartók’s Bluebeard

David Nice

One source of advance information told us to expect a reduced version of Bartók’s one-act Bluebeard’s Castle, among the 20th century’s most original and profound operatic masterpieces.


La bohème, Scottish Opera – pandemic Puccini

Christopher Lambton

Picture the scene. A vast steel gazebo covers a nondescript parking lot next to an industrial unit in Glasgow. With a clear plastic covering, it is...

The Royal Opera: Live in Concert review -...

David Nice

What could be better than Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro to celebrate the Royal Opera’s next step on the path out of lockdown? Ideally,...

Sāvitri, Lauderdale House review - death and life...

David Nice

In seach of Orpheus, and following a route from the Hades of (thankfully) masked beings on the underground to Archway, then up to a windy, grassy...

The Encore, Opera Holland Park review - stylish return for a squad of old friends

Boyd Tonkin

A moving and delightful al fresco feast of opera favourites

Heart's Delight, Opera Holland Park review - a classy hour of operetta pops

David Nice

Five fine singers and a small orchestra deliver hits at a high level

Moses und Aron, Komische Oper Berlin, OperaVision review – complex and powerful memorial

Gavin Dixon

Schoenberg’s opera of unanswerable questions proves a fitting Holocaust epitaph

Elektra, Salzburg Festival, Arte review - distancing, but not in the physical sense

David Nice

Cold, analytical Strauss from Franz Welser-Möst and an odd array of performing styles

First Person: Antonia Bain on directing a short kitchen opera for film

Antonia Bain

Scottish Opera's digital content producer on making 'The Narcissistic Fish'

Classical music/Opera direct to home 19 – and two before a live audience

David Nice

Finally, you can be in the room, or space, where it happens in two east London venues

The Opera Story: Episodes review - whimsical takes on lockdown life

Bernard Hughes

Young London company offers snapshots of contemporary living

Classical music/Opera direct to home 17 - festive inventions

David Nice

Celebrating a maverick conductor, two great artists in recital and home-grown ingenuity

Don Giovanni/Sibelius plus, Swedish RSO, Harding, livestream review - dark studio rituals

David Nice

Vivid Mozart style from top cast and conductor, but concepts work only fitfully

Live from Covent Garden 1, Royal Opera and Ballet online review - small-scale but perfectly formed

David Nice

Clever programming from mastermind Antonio Pappano showcases best of British plus

Classical music/Opera direct to home 15 - opening up at different rates

David Nice

The Royal Opera cautiously re-engages, while Sweden and Norway continue apace

Classical music/Opera direct to home 14 - sound and vision at the highest level

David Nice

Esoteric Berlin delights, two fine UK concerts, vivid Puccini and classical awards for all

La voix humaine, Grange Park Opera online review – hanging on the telephone

Boyd Tonkin

Poulenc's technological tragedy proves eerily apt for lockdown lives

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

David Nice

Festivals cope with live online events and past fare

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

David Nice

Rimsky-Korsakov's myth resonates in the highest musical and production standards

Avoiding meltdown from lockdown: Michael Chance on The Grange Festival's strategy for survival

Michael Chance

The countertenor and mastermind of a major summer opera event weighs up the future

Sadko, Bolshoi Opera online review - medieval Russia meets reality TV

Gavin Dixon

Tcherniakov reimagines Rimsky-Korsakov's fairy-tale, without losing the magic

Eugene Onegin, Komische Oper, OperaVision review - sensual and devastating

Alexandra Coghlan

Kosky serves up first love hot and sweet and heartbreaking

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

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.

Close Footnote


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Bach’s The Art of Fugue, Angela Hewitt, Wigmore Hall – the m...

How do they do it? Bach and Angela Hewitt, I mean, transfixing and...

Bob Woodward: Rage review - terror and tyranny in the White...

“Build the wall!” exhorted Trump, at rally after rally back in the days when we’d all acknowledged his moral repugnancy but still believed he...

Blu-ray: Beau Travail

This fifth feature from...

Ottessa Moshfegh: Death in Her Hands review - a case of murd...

Death in Her Hands was a forgotten manuscript, the product of a...

Sudhir Hazareesingh: Black Spartacus review – the life, and...

The former slave, and coachman on a sugar plantation, began one of his early public proclamations in a typically defiant vein: “I am Toussaint...

Ian Williams: Reproduction review - a dazzling kaleidoscope...

Ian Williams’s writing is always in motion. For his 2012 poetry...

Academy of St Martin in the Fields review - from solo medita...

Clearly it takes peculiar circumstances for some of us to hear the Academy of St Martin in the Fields within its eponymous church – that’s a first...

Emma Cline: Daddy review - scintillating short stories by th...

The Girls, Emma Cline’s acclaimed debut novel of 2016, was billed as a story based on the Manson murders. But in fact, like some of the...

Album: Groove Armada - Edge of the Horizon

Alongside Basement Jaxx, Groove Armada were one of the last big acts to blossom from the...

Bernard Haitink: The Enigmatic Maestro, BBC Two review - say...

Before his retirement last summer at the age of 90, Bernard Haitink worked magic on the podium, no one is in any doubt about that. Lining up one...