tue 06/10/2015

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Kiss Me, Kate, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Opera North have an excellent track record when it comes to staging musicals, and Jo Davies’s Kiss Me, Kate is among the best things they’ve done. Cole Porter’s score and lyrics are flawless, though the book (by husband and wife team Bella and Samuel Spewick) is a little clunky. Act 1 is overlong, and the show’s close is a tad perfunctory. But what an erudite, wise piece. Many successful new musicals are little more than jukebox compilations, whereas Kiss Me, Kate is a sophisticated, multi-...

Salome, Bournemouth SO, Karabits, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Richard Bratby

“How fair is the Princess Salome tonight”! That slithering clarinet run, that glint of moonlight: few operas create their world so instantly and so intoxicatingly. At Symphony Hall, the lights rose on the very back row of the stage, the percussion riser serving as the terrace from which Andrew Staples’s Narraboth and Anna Burford’s Page exchanged their ecstasies and warnings. Beneath them, Kirill Karabits directed a surging, shimmering Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with urgent, economical...


Pelléas et Mélisande, English Touring Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Shorn of several scenes, characters, and a large portion of the orchestra, the question was always whether English Touring Opera’s Pelléas et...

Farinelli and the King, Duke of York's...

David Nice

No doubt this sophisticated bagatelle worked like a charm in the intimate space and woody resonance of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. The Duke of York'...

Il ritorno d' Ulisse in patria, AAM, Egarr,...

Alexandra Coghlan

And so the Academy of Ancient Music’s triptych of Monteverdi operas at the Barbican comes to an end, three years after it began with Orfeo. If 2014’s...

Orlando, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Handel's music as usual triumphs over silly plot dully staged

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, English National Opera

David Nice

Searing music drama from soprano, director and conductor for ENO's new era

Lost In Thought: A Mindfulness Opera, Mahogany Opera Group, LSO St Luke's

Alexandra Coghlan

Rolf Hind's meditation is certainly lost in something, just not thought

theartsdesk Q&A: Conductor Mark Wigglesworth

David Nice

English National Opera's new Music Director on Shostakovich, silence and 'accessibility'

Hofmann, Royal Danish Orchestra, Boder, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Richard Bratby

Nørgård, Schoenberg and Nielsen from Denmark

10 Questions for Conductor Laurence Equilbey

David Nice

French music director of the Accentus Choir and Insula Orchestra talks different styles

Trofonio’s Cave, Bampton Opera

Peter Quantrill

A country-house opera comes to London with a fast-paced Salieri show

Orphée et Eurydice, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A sober and lovely season-opener at Covent Garden

I Puritani, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Bellini's last opera partly relocated but it's the singing and playing that count

Listed: Essential Operas 2015-16


Our classical/opera writers choose 12 highlights of the coming season

The Magic Flute, Komische Oper Berlin, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A magical Flute, but an insufficiently human one

Entanglement/ That Man Stephen Ward, Presteigne Festival

Richard Bratby

An arresting new psychodrama from Charlotte Bray, and Thomas Hyde revival

Prom Chamber Music 6: Jeremy Denk/ Prom 53: Fray, Philharmonia, Salonen

David Nice

Blocks of Bartók hit hard, but an orchestrated slab of earlyish Shostakovich falls flat

The Last Hotel, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

David Kettle

Provocative new opera on assisted suicide from Enda Walsh and Donnacha Dennehy

HMS Pinafore, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company

Richard Bratby

Fresh and funny G&S, with operatic weight

Ravel Double Bill, Glyndebourne

David Nice

Titters for a Spanish farce, but Laurent Pelly's adventures of a naughty boy are heartbreaking

Prom 25: Orfeo, EBS, Gardiner

Alexandra Coghlan

An operatic paean to the power of music

Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre

David Nice

Ben Whishaw's ambiguous Dionysos and operatic chorus serve superb Euripides translation

Prom 11: Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera

David Nice

Bryn Terfel's effortless Tevye hampered by amplification as the shtetl musical hits the Proms

Xerxes, Longborough Opera

Stephen Walsh

Handel's Persian comedy in a nightclub done with great polish by young singers

theartsdesk at the Buxton Festival: Bloody Lucia, saintly Joan and sweet Louise

Richard Bratby

High operatic standards for Donizetti, Verdi and Charpentier in the Peak District

Saul, Glyndebourne

Alexandra Coghlan

Enfant terrible Barrie Kosky comes of age in this inspired production of Handel's oratorio

Remembering Jon Vickers (1926-2015)


Recollections of a unique tenor from soprano Linda Esther Gray and writer Jonathon Brown

theartsdesk at the Lichfield Festival

Richard Bratby

A slimline Magic Flute in the Cathedral and David Matthews as featured composer

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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