sun 29/03/2015

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Princess Ida, Finborough Theatre

David Nice

All Savoyards, whether conservative or liberal towards productions, have been grievously practised upon. They told us to expect the first professional London grappling with Gilbert and Sullivan’s eighth and, subject-wise, most problematic operetta in 20 years (23, if the reference is to Ken Russell’s unmitigated mess, one of English National Opera’s biggest disasters). Yet this is not Princess Ida as the pair would recognize it.In what turns out to be director Phil Wilmott’s “performing version...

Amadis de Gaule, UCL Opera

Matthew Wright

Johann Christian Bach’s Amadis de Gaule, which is receiving its first London run this week in a vivid and charming production at University College London Opera this week, suffered like many a talented work from the blinkered whims of musical fashion. History has generally focused on more pressing issues in late 18th-century Paris than the operatic rivalry between the schools of Gluck and Piccinni, but Bach’s failure to please either faction along with the minor disturbances of 1789 has, it’s...


Giove in Argo, Britten Theatre, Royal College of...

David Nice

If you’re looking for rare festival Handel, better a pasticcio – take that as shorthand for a cut-and-paste job mostly from previous hits – than one...

Madama Butterfly, Royal Opera

David Nice

When is a famous aria more than just a showpiece? When it’s a narrative of a future event conjured by a hope beyond reason, which is what Madama...

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

Alexandra Coghlan

“Do you think they’ve got enough plot to get us through to the end?” I overheard a lady anxiously asking her husband during the interval. It was a...

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

Ruddigore, Charles Court Opera, King's Head Theatre

David Nice

They can sing, dance and make you laugh until you cry: portmanteau G&S at its very best

Le Roi de Lahore, Chelsea Opera Group, QEH

David Nice

Top quality operatic voices in first London performance of Massenet exotica since 1880

Die Zauberflöte, Royal Opera

David Nice

Young lovers, a comic turn and paternal priest triumphant in Covent Garden staple

The Indian Queen, English National Opera

Kimon Daltas

A colourful but eccentric production veers between beauty and incomprehensibility

Hansel and Gretel, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Fairytale masterpiece revived as a brilliant foodie fantasy

Farinelli and the King, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Alexandra Coghlan

A witty and moving new play is a timely reminder of just why art matters

La Vida Breve/Gianni Schicchi, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Exuberant comedy and mishandled tragedy in an uneven double bill

'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

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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