fri 22/05/2015

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Poliuto, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Fashion is a funny thing, in opera no less than the sartorial trappings that go with it (everything from tight, hipster trews to billowing ballgowns at last night's Glyndebourne season opening, in case you were wondering). Donizetti's classical tragedy Poliuto is historically a miss rather than a hit, never quite finding its footing in the repertoire, despite some early success. But on the strength – and strength of appropriately gladiatorial proportions it really is – of Glyndebourne...

Carmen, English National Opera

David Nice

Crotch-grabbing, suggestions of oral and anal sex, stylized punching and kicking and other casual violence offer diminishing returns in your standard Calixto Bieito production. Sometimes a scene or two flashes focused brilliance, which only makes you wonder why he doesn’t apply the same rigour throughout. His 17-year-old Carmen has more such fitful insights than most of his other shows, and they’re very much complemented here by assured conducting and singing to make this punchy edition of...


Parsifal, CBSO, Nelsons, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Peter Quantrill

This was a very "concert" performance indeed. Across the stage music stands stood like sentinels lest any rash singer attempted to stand out and –...

Il Trovatore, Scottish Opera

David Kettle

"The darkness deceived me," sings Leonora in Act I as she mistakenly rushes into the arms of the Count di Luna, rather than those of her beloved, the...

Peter Pan, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

I must have been one of the few in Saturday’s audience for Richard Ayres’s new opera who had never seen Barrie’s play or read the book, so I’m unable...

Being Both, Coote, English Concert, Bicket, Brighton Dome

Matthew Wright

Fascinating programme and ravishing delivery undermined by symbolic bric-a-brac

The Pirates of Penzance, English National Opera

David Nice

Savoyard supreme Mike Leigh and top cast play it straight to serve a comic masterpiece

Dalibor, BBCSO, Bělohlávek, Barbican

Gavin Dixon

Superior performance makes a compelling case for Smetana’s neglected masterpiece

The Virtues of Things, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

Too much talk and not enough song

Król Roger, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A triumphant return to the stage for Szymanowski's neglected score

Trial by Jury / The Zoo, King's Head Theatre

David Nice

Perfect Savoyards excel in trial by telly and sweet zoological love story

Die Walküre Act 3, WNO, Koenigs, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

Stephen Walsh

Wagner in concert finely paced, with only minor visual distractions

ATTHIS, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A gorgeous play of music and emotion based on the erotic love poetry of Sappho

Jenůfa, Scottish Opera

Christopher Lambton

A powerful account of Janáček's disquieting drama

The Pirates of Penzance, Touring

David Nice

Where the maidens are men and every gag's a winner

10 Questions for Mezzo-Soprano Alice Coote

Thomas H Green

The singer speaks about opera, loneliness, time machines and her special Brighton Festival event

King Size, Theater Basel, Linbury Studio Theatre

David Nice

Promising idea of dramatised dreamsongs from all ages yields insipid results

Between Worlds, ENO, Barbican

Jessica Duchen

Tansy Davies's 9/11 opera is deeply moving, yet needs to bridge more than worlds

Swanhunter, Opera North, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A colourful family opera brought to life with inventive puppetry

Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

David Nice

Barber, pie-maker and orchestra all predictably consummate, but the staging lacks focus

Why everyone should see The Mysteries from Cape Town

Jasper Rees

How a medieval play from Chester ended up in Xhosa and Zulu

Princess Ida, Finborough Theatre

David Nice

Tweaked plot and lyrics muddy the waters of Gilbert and Sullivan's tricky sexist satire

Amadis de Gaule, UCL Opera

Matthew Wright

Spirited student revival of JC Bach's lovely final opera

Giove in Argo, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music

David Nice

Into the woods with quality Handel, fine young singers and the brilliant Laurence Cummings

Madama Butterfly, Royal Opera

David Nice

Great conductor and soprano realise Puccini's deepest heartbreak to perfection

The Wild Man of the West Indies, ETO, Hackney Empire

Alexandra Coghlan

Far from wild, this show is far too tame for real operatic drama

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

Peter Quantrill

Grand designs for an austerity-age opera

Opinion: Where's the crisis at ENO?

David Nice

Something may be rotten at the London Coliseum, but it isn't the artistic team

Alice in Wonderland, BBCSO, Brönnimann, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

A curious tale gets a riotous musical telling

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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