fri 01/07/2016

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Die Walküre, Opera North, Southbank Centre

David Nice

Enter the human - and superhuman demands for at least four of the singers - in the second, towering instalment of Wagner's Ring cycle. It says so much for Opera North's achievement so far that no one fell in any way short of the sometimes insane vocal demands. There were only varying degrees of characterisation and commitment, none of them less than fine.Bad luck, perhaps, that the lower, though not exactly low, temperatures came in the first act as we meet the hero Wotan has fathered as free...

Das Rheingold, Opera North, Southbank Centre

David Nice

They promised Wagner for everybody at the Southbank Centre, and so far they're delivering. Community events cluster around a livescreening of each Ring instalment in the Clore Ballroom. We privileged few in the Festival Hall wondered how newcomers might be reacting out there, but there was no interval in the two-and-three-quarter-hour Das Rheingold to go and test the waters. I'm hoping that Tolkein lovers enjoyed the mythological gimmicks of the tetralogy's "preliminary evening" opera even if...

 

The Hogboon, LSO, Rattle, Barbican

Helen Wallace

The spirit of the late Peter Maxwell Davies blazed in the Barbican Hall last night. Dear God, we’ve never needed his humane, inclusive vision more...

Le Nozze di Figaro, Longborough Festival Opera

Stephen Walsh

“It doesn’t need me,” Sebastian Thomas writes in this season’s Longborough programme, “to labour the idea that the content of a theatrical or musical...

Werther, Royal Opera

David Nice

All 23 of Massenet's mature operas boast memorably melodious quarters of an hour and fastidious orchestration, so why Werther’s special status as a...

Jenůfa, English National Opera

David Nice

Janáček's optimistic tragedy at its most powerful in electrifying revival

Idomeneo, Garsington Opera

David Nice

Balance, but never neutrality, from fine singers and director in lacerating Mozart

theartsdesk at the Holland Festival

James Woodall

Dutchness, audio-jungle, dirty minds and Dunsinane at one of Europe's premier arts festivals

Don Giovanni, Classical Opera, Page, Cadogan Hall

Gavin Dixon

A dramatic account, demonstrating that period instruments can still surprise in Mozart

Be With Me Now, Britten Studio, Snape

David Nice

Nine superb young musicians unite in fluid operatic Euromance

Alberto Remedios: 'his natural instrument obeyed his inner thoughts with ease'

Linda Esther Gray

A great Isolde remembers a great Tristan, who has died aged 81

The Beggar's Opera, University of Birmingham

Richard Bratby

Benjamin Britten meets Austerity Britain in a resourceful student production

The Iris Murder, Hebrides Ensemble, Edinburgh

David Kettle

Exquisite music in an oblique, elusive new opera from Alasdair Nicolson

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne

Stephen Walsh

Janáček’s comic strip opera revived with its musical energy and visual wit intact

La Bohème, Opera Holland Park

Alexandra Coghlan

Puccini's bohemians find themselves in the 16th century in this emotive production

Illuminations, Tynan, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Snape Maltings

Helen Wallace

Aldeburgh Festival opens with a ravishing night of music and physical theatre

Tristan and Isolde, English National Opera

David Nice

Heroic tenor Stuart Skelton pulls focus in ambitious, hit-and-miss Wagner

Tannhäuser, Longborough Festival Opera

Stephen Walsh

Early Wagner about love and sex reworked successfully from a fresh angle

Into the Woods, Opera North, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Graham Rickson

Excellent vocal performances enrich a Sondheim classic

Iris, Opera Holland Park

David Nice

Nasty child-abuse melodrama set to Mascagni's inappropriately lush music

Der Freischütz, OAE, Elder, RFH

Gavin Dixon

Period orchestra shines for its anniversary celebration

La Fanciulla del West, Grange Park Opera

Stephen Walsh

Puccini's gold rush melodrama is well sung but cramped by small theatre

theartsdesk in Prague: Czech Spring with Smetana and Martinů

David Nice

The native greats illuminated in their homeland's glorious capital

Ariane/Alexandre Bis, Guildhall School

David Nice

Two-faced men and confused women in schizoid Martinů mini-operas

Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Double bill celebrates Italy in Wales and 70 years of changing styles

theartsdesk in Warsaw: Moniuszko Vocal Competition 2016

Gavin Dixon

Rising stars of opera shine at major Polish-based international event

4.48 Psychosis, Royal Opera, Lyric Hammersmith

Alexandra Coghlan

A musical dramatisation of Sarah Kane's classic play finds both pain and consolation

Oedipe, Royal Opera

David Nice

Tragedy transcended and patience rewarded in Enescu's epic myth

Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne

David Nice

Musical brio and a fine cast undermined by loose directing

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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The Old Vic
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