sun 01/03/2015

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Die Zauberflöte, Royal Opera

David Nice

Mozart’s The Magic Flute is one of those operas, like Verdi’s Il trovatore and all the mature Wagner masterpieces, which need a line-up of equally fine singers but rarely get it in the compromised world of the opera house. With Christiane Karg and Pavol Breslik as the trial-enduring lovers joining three performances in the latest revival of David McVicar’s production, and only Anna Siminska’s fifth-element Queen of the Night unknown to me, last night's team looked good in principle. And so it...

The Indian Queen, English National Opera

Kimon Daltas

When Purcell died at just 36, he left The Indian Queen unfinished, which only adds to the usual problems of staging his "semi-operas" – plays with musical interludes which don’t really accord with modern operatic tastes, despite the ravishing beauty of the music itself.Rather than tinkering around the edges, Peter Sellars – the director best known for his long-standing partnership with John Adams – has created a new piece entirely. Its narrated plot, borrowed from Nicaraguan novelist Rosario...


Hansel and Gretel, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

After 16 years one might expect a revival of a repertory opera like Hansel and Gretel to come up with a dusty look and frayed edges. But Benjamin...

Farinelli and the King, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Alexandra Coghlan

Farinelli and The King is pretty much a perfect piece of theatre. More importantly, though, it’s perfectly timed. In a month when English National...

La Vida Breve/Gianni Schicchi, Opera North

Graham Rickson

The good news first: director Christopher Alden’s new production of Gianni Schicchi is quite brilliant, and one of the funniest, cleverest things you...

'I'm the photographer. Any nudity? Any fighting?'

Bill Knight

theartsdesk's theatre snapper exposes the secrets of the trade

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, English National Opera

David Nice

Focused joy, and a great philosopher-hero, as Richard Jones's Wagner reaches London

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

This Dutchman finally comes in to port

Leiferkus, LPO, Jurowski, RFH

Matthew Wright

Jurowski’s high-concept operatic pairing flickers brilliantly

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

An exceptional cast make this revolutionary romance a must-see

Orfeo, Royal Opera, Roundhouse

David Nice

Austerely beautiful retelling of mythic Orpheus's grief and trials, with sounds to match

Best of 2014: Opera

David Nice

A vintage year as our reviewers struggle to narrow it down to a Top 10

Un Ballo in Maschera, Royal Opera

David Nice

Shining moments and star voices in mostly drab Verdi

The Way Back Home, ENO, Young Vic

Alexandra Coghlan

A colourful children's show that's got Christmas written all over it

Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera

David Nice

Antonio Pappano and Nina Stemme spellbind again in Christof Loy's rigorous Wagner

theartsdesk in Oslo: Two Peer Gynts and a Hamlet

David Nice

Intermittently powerful new Ibsen opera outshone by hard-hitting Norwegian theatre

Karajan's Magic and Myth, BBC Four

Adam Sweeting

John Bridcut explores the many contradictions of the superstar conductor

Pelléas et Mélisande, Philharmonia, Salonen, RFH

Alexandra Coghlan

A Pelléas of echoes and allusions, and a dramatic revelation

The Gospel According to the Other Mary, English National Opera

David Nice

Grace and pain stunningly interwoven in Adams's rich score and Sellars's luminous staging

L'Elisir d'Amore, Royal Opera

Jessica Duchen

The sun shines out of Vittorio Grigolo's behind in a strong revival of Laurent Pelly's production

Daphnis et Églé/La Naissance d'Osiris, Les Arts Florissants, Christie, Barbican

Jenny Gilbert

Baroque music and dance illuminate each other in one-off period recreation performance

Glare, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

An operatic thriller that's as far from perfect as its flawed characters

Cristina, Regina di Svezia, Chelsea Opera Group, Cadogan Hall

David Nice

No neglected gem, Foroni's cod-historical opera showcases soprano Helena Dix

Classical CDs Weekly: Barry, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Shostakovich

Graham Rickson

A startling new comic opera, picturesque orchestral music and a terrifying Soviet symphony

The Cunning Peasant, Guildhall School

David Nice

Students deliver Dvořák's folky songs and dances with appropriate youthful zest

Levsha, Maryinsky Opera, Barbican Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

An operatic conceit of enormous wit and charm

Idomeneo, Royal Opera

David Nice

Zero human interest in this power-struggle reduction of Mozart's great Greek myth

Betrothal in a Monastery, Maryinsky Opera, Cardiff

Stephen Walsh

Prokofiev comedy semi-staged with wit and lyrical eloquence

La Bohème, English National Opera

David Nice

Star-voiced lovers move and soar, but revived Jonathan Miller production does little

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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