wed 25/05/2016

Opera reviews, news and interviews

4.48 Psychosis, Royal Opera, Lyric Hammersmith

Alexandra Coghlan

New operas are a risky business, or so the Royal Opera’s past experience teaches us. For years, visiting the company’s Linbury Studio Theatre was like rolling the dice while on a losing streak: vain, desperate hope followed inevitably by disappointment. Glare, The Virtues of Things, Clemency, the failed experiment that was OperaShots. But recently things have taken a turn. Gradually, thanks to works from Birtwistle, Haas and more, the risk has begun to pay off. Now Philip Venables’s 4.48...

Oedipe, Royal Opera

David Nice

"Unjustly neglected masterpiece" is a cliché of musical criticism, and usually an exaggeration. Romanian master Enescu's vast journey through aspects of the Oedipus myth seemed like an unacknowledged great among 20th century operas through the medium of the starrily-cast EMI recording with José van Dam as the noblest Greek of all; after Martinu's Julietta and Szymanowski's King Roger, here was the last titan to be properly served by a top UK production. Following two acts of La Fura dels Baus's...


Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne

David Nice

"We're off to Glyndebourne, to see a ra-ther bor-ing op-ra by Rosseeeni," quoth songwriting wags Kit and the Widow. So here it was at the Sussex...

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne

Alexandra Coghlan

A celebration of the power of words and music (leaving aside, briefly, that more troubling business about the Fatherland), Wagner’s Die Meistersinger...

theartsdesk in Göttingen: HandelFest 2016

David Nice

What Auden called "the sexy airs of summer" arrived early in Göttingen this year. Frog action in the Botanical Gardens of the town's pioneering...

Madam Butterfly, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A beautiful 'Butterfly' still, but one a little vacant behind the eyes

In Parenthesis, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

New Somme opera turns intimate poem into wide-screen epic with mixed results

Pleasure, Royal Opera, Lyric Hammersmith

Bernard Hughes

Mark Simpson’s new opera provides a challenging lead role for Lesley Garrett

Die Zauberflöte, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Fischer, RFH

David Nice

Pretty-as-a-picture staging, but singers don't often equal conductor and players

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

David Nice

Can the new incumbent hold out against the company's impoverishment?

Il Vologeso, Classical Opera, Cadogan Hall

David Nice

A gem from 1766 offers pure delight in perfect casting and playing

Tannhäuser, Royal Opera

Gavin Dixon

Superior cast elevates revival of Albery’s serviceable production

Don Giovanni / Pia de' Tolomei, English Touring Opera

Richard Bratby

Mozart meets Schnitzler, and a Donizetti premiere strikes gold

Shakespeare 400 Gala, LPO, Jurowski, RFH

David Nice

The Bard in words and music from Mendelssohn to Adès, steered by the best

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

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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Groundhog Day
The Old Vic
11 July – 17 September
Groundhog Day is the story of Phil Connors (Andy Karl), a cynical Pittsburgh TV weatherman who is sent to cover the annual Groundhog Day event in the isolated small town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, when he finds himself caught in a time loop, forced to repeat the same day again and again…and again. As each day plays out exactly the same as before Phil becomes increasingly despondent, but is there a lesson to be learnt through his experiences, will he ever unlock the secret and break the cycle?
Director Matthew Warchus, composer and lyricist Tim Minchin, choreographer Peter Darling and designer Rob Howell, four of the creators of the international sensation Matilda The Musical, have joined forces with writer Danny Rubin to collaborate on this new musical based on his 1993 hit film.
Andy Karl’s numerous Broadway credits include On the Twentieth Century, Rocky, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Jersey Boys, Wicked, 9 to 5, Legally Blonde, The Wedding Singer and Saturday Night Fever.

Andy Karl is appearing with the support of UK Equity, incorporating the Variety Artistes’ Federation, pursuant to an exchange program between American Equity and UK Equity.


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