sat 30/04/2016

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Daniel Kramer for ENO Artistic Director: cause for cautious optimism?

David Nice

Within the wounded, divided company of English National Opera – artists and administration still at loggerheads – the buzz is surprisingly positive. CEO Cressida Pollock does finally seem to be listening: chorus and orchestra members were both included in the final selection process of Artistic Director. From what I gleaned last night after the final blazing performance of Brahms's A German Requiem under the best Music Director I've seen at ENO in my lifetime, Mark Wigglesworth, they liked what...

Il Vologeso, Classical Opera, Cadogan Hall

David Nice

A mere 10 minutes in to this concert performance of an 18th century delight by Neapolitan Niccolò Jommelli, you knew the form to expect for the rest of the evening. Ian Page's Classical Orchestra kicked off with bracing rhythmic vitality from the start, and sounded super-bright in Cadogan acoustics so ideal for their forces. Then three of the main singers quickly showed their total classiness – the others were not to disappoint – with vivid continuo support led by the best in the business,...


Tannhäuser, Royal Opera

Gavin Dixon

Tim Albery’s 2010 production of Wagner's Tannhäuser is back for a revival at Royal Opera, featuring a different conductor and a nearly new cast, with...

Don Giovanni / Pia de' Tolomei, English...

Richard Bratby

The curtain is up for the overture to English Touring Opera’s new production of Don Giovanni, but no-one is on stage. Instead, we gaze at Anna...

Shakespeare 400 Gala, LPO, Jurowski, RFH

David Nice

Every year is Shakespeare year in theatre, opera house and concert hall. An anniversary's best, though, for those select few galas where the mind's...

Jenůfa, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Bělohlávek, RFH

David Nice

Gorgeous sounds but not enough tension in concert Janáček

Rusalka, Scottish Opera

Christopher Lambton

Reality bites in Dvořák's rarely heard masterpiece

Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Potent and disquieting, this new production makes no secret of its agenda

The Importance of Being Earnest, Royal Opera, Barbican

David Nice

Smashing time with Gerald Barry's crazy-precise operatic whizz through Wilde

Written on Skin, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

An operatic story still etched as deeply as ever

Boris Godunov, Royal Opera

David Nice

Chilling symmetries in Richard Jones's take on Musorgsky's hard-line original

Save ENO: The Chorus Speaks

David Nice

Crucial and articulate voices representing a great company under threat

Ariodante, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music

Alexandra Coghlan

A darkly intense production of Handel's almost-tragedy

Iphigénie en Tauride, English Touring Opera

David Nice

Fine visuals for Gluck's tale of redemption from tragedy, but little pity or terror

Akhnaten, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Mindfulness meets magic in this outstanding fusion of music and movement

Orlando, The English Concert, Bicket, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

Handel's psycho-drama entertains but doesn't engage

Nothing, Glyndebourne Youth Opera

David Nice

Rites of passage as chilling myth in strong adaptation of Janne Teller's novel

Il Trittico, Royal Opera

David Nice

Gains and losses in still-enthralling revival of Puccini's triple whammy

Figaro Gets a Divorce, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

New opera a worthy if very different successor to Mozart and Rossini

The Marriage of Figaro, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Mozart matched by a production with wit and style and no deviant concept

Ariodante, Scottish Opera

David Kettle

A claustrophobic, beautifully sung new production of Handel's opera of deception and jealousy

Norma, English National Opera

David Nice

Classy sister act soars above Bellini's dull bits and an overcooked production

Dido and Aeneas, Armonico Consort, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury

Richard Bratby

Big-hearted Purcell and tear-stained Pergolesi from a chamber sized team

The Barber of Seville, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Slapstick start to WNO's Figaro cycle rescued by fine singing

The Magic Flute, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Mozart's opera rediscovers its magic in this revelatory revival

The Devil Inside, Peacock Theatre

David Nice

Compelling new Faustian-pact opera is small in scale but big on ideas

L'Étoile, Royal Opera

David Nice

Chabrier's pretty music for an absurdist comedy needs more sparkle

Alder, Hulett, Classical Opera, Page, Wigmore Hall

David Nice

Second year of 'Mozart 250' places the boy wonder among the grown-ups of 1766

Tosca, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Still a show worth revisiting, despite some serious casting issues

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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