mon 19/11/2018

Opera reviews, news and interviews

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

Alexandra Coghlan

We’re not good at lack these days. Just look at the concert hall, where increasingly you turn up to find not just an orchestra and soloists but a giant screen. Videos, projections, live speakers, "virtual choirs"; if there’s so much as a chink of an opening in the music, you can bet that someone will try and fill it. It seems to come from a place of generosity, a desire to reach out, to supplement, to amplify, to explain, just in case we didn’t feel or see or understand before.

Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera review - a timely revival of Verdi's political music-drama

Alexandra Coghlan

Political machinations and backroom power-brokering, leadership battles and unscrupulous rivals – if ever there was an opera for this week it’s Simon Boccanegra. Premiered in 1857 but only coming into its own after substantial revisions in 1881, Verdi’s problem-child of a piece had its own struggle for survival and success, and the work’s rather lumpy dramatic architecture shows the scars of its various grafts and interventions.


The Silver Tassie, BBCSO, Barbican review - a...

Alexandra Coghlan

In a week of flickering memorial candles and cascading poppies we’ve all been asked to contemplate the pity of war – to remember and to seek...

The Rake's Progress, LPO, Jurowski, RFH...

David Nice

Lightness and gravity in perfect equilibrium have always graced Vladimir Jurowski's Stravinsky. From his first London Rake's Progress at English...

Serse, Fagioli, Il Pomo d'Oro, Barbican...

Boyd Tonkin

What a scrumptious spread of musical virtuosity the Barbican has laid on with the aid of its international guests this week. A couple of days after...

Car, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Tognetti, Milton Court review - a rattlebag of happy collaborations

David Nice

The ACO welcomes compatriot soprano and joins with young Guildhall players

Verdi's Requiem, Royal Opera, Pappano review - all that heaven allows

David Nice

Incandescence from soloists, chorus, orchestra and conductor in a near-perfect ritual

Juliana, Nova Music Opera, St John's Smith Square review - new version of a classic drama

Bernard Hughes

Strindberg recast in the modern day is a showcase for young singing talent

Cendrillon, Glyndebourne Tour review - too many ingredients in the magic soup

David Nice

Young singers risk getting lost in the clutter of Fiona Shaw's over-loaded production

theartsdesk in Stockholm: the Birgit Nilsson Prize unites two great Wagnerian sopranos

David Nice

Nina Stemme does honour to her compatriot, who would have been 100 this year

Porgy and Bess, English National Opera review - strength in depth on Catfish Row

Boyd Tonkin

A heroic cast steers Gershwin's masterpiece home in style

Solomon, Royal Opera review - an awkward compromise of a performance

Alexandra Coghlan

Handel's oratorio given a handsome but frustrating account

Opolais, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Nelsons, RFH review - splendid and awful stretches

David Nice

New work excepted, this second Southbank concert from Germans and Latvians shone

Radamisto, English Touring Opera review - propulsive, lively Handel

Gavin Dixon

More atmosphere than drama in a modest but effective staging of Handel’s early opera

BBC Philharmonic, Wellber, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - new conductor’s debut

Robert Beale

Harbinger of things to come – the spirit of the stage

Montserrat Caballé (1933-2018): from Bellini to 'Barcelona'

David Nice

Glimpses of the Spanish soprano who could float a line like no other

Dido and Aeneas, Academy of Ancient Music, Barbican review – prosthetic passions

Boyd Tonkin

Puppetry, Handspring-style, helps give new life to Purcell's tragedy

Götterdämmerung, Royal Opera review - a fiery finale to this ambiguous cycle

Alexandra Coghlan

A strong cast welcomes doubts and possibilities in this closing episode of Wagner's epic

Siegfried, Royal Opera review - a truly fearless hero

David Nice

Stefan Vinke and Nina Stemme bring epic poetry to an often prosaic Ring

Salome, English National Opera review - a not so terrible stillness

David Nice

Inertia kills strong stage pictures, decent singing and a bejewelled orchestra

Die Walküre, Royal Opera review – putting family before sex

Peter Quantrill

Strong casting and unreliable chemistry in the last hurrah for a well-grooved staging

Das Rheingold, Royal Opera review - high drama and dark comedy

Gavin Dixon

Strong casting and dynamic staging augur well for Covent Garden’s latest Ring revival

Isouard's Cendrillon, Bampton Classical Opera review - stepsisters shine in fairy-tale bagatelle

David Nice

Maltese-French composer's Cinders opera is mostly routine, but performed with esprit

Parsifal, Saffron Opera Group review - drama and focus

Gavin Dixon

Amateur company continues its run of dramatically compelling Wagner

War and Peace, Welsh National Opera review - an Operation Barbarossa that comes off

Stephen Walsh

Not quite a masterpiece but a great aural and visual spectacle

Tosca, Opera North review - exciting update, strong on sonic thrills

Graham Rickson

40th anniversary production of Puccini's 'shabby little shocker'

The Rake's Progress, British Youth Opera review - perfect poise in slippery Stravinsky

David Nice

Well-trained young singers have space to articulate skewed morality tale

Prom 71, DiDonato, Tamestit, ORR, Gardiner review - concert Berlioz as bracing theatre

David Nice

A dramatic feast for the eyes as well as the ears, this should have been on TV

Paul Bunyan, ENO, Wilton's Music Hall review - talent cabined and confined

David Nice

A fine company in Britten and Auden's little great American operetta sold short

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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