wed 29/07/2015

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Prom 11: Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera

David Nice

Stop miking Bryn Terfel. Stop over-miking musicals; the show voices in a hybrid cast don’t need much. Too much ruined English National Opera’s recent Sweeney Todd, and in this Proms adaptation of Grange Park Opera’s summer crowd-pleaser it sent the voices ricocheting around the Albert Hall, making mush of the words and stridency of the few belt-it-out moments. It also made it hard to assess what seemed like a resourceful staging of a baggy-monster musical with four or five great songs, no...

Xerxes, Longborough Opera

Stephen Walsh

One hardly expects operas about historical figures to bother much with the actual facts of their lives. But Handel’s Xerxes must nevertheless rank as an extreme case. Instead of bridging the Hellespont and invading Greece with a million men – a campaign mentioned in passing as if it were some minor business trip – Xerxes spends his time philandering with his brother’s intended and generally creating emotional mayhem in the Persian court. Jenny Miller’s production transplants the action,...


theartsdesk at the Buxton Festival: Bloody Lucia...

Richard Bratby

Sunlight bounces off Derbyshire stone, buskers strum on the Pavilion Gardens bandstand and there’s improvised Shakespeare on the streets: it’s...

Saul, Glyndebourne

Alexandra Coghlan

I can’t remember a time I felt so profoundly disquieted by a Handel staging. It’s partly that, as an oratorio, Saul breaks so many dramatic rules...

Remembering Jon Vickers (1926-2015)


Canadian heroic tenor Jon Vickers, who died on Friday 10 July aged 88 and whose full life took him from work on a Saskatchewan farm to the great...

theartsdesk at the Lichfield Festival

Richard Bratby

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

Lakmé, Opera Holland Park

David Nice

Inert staging weighs heavy, but a charming ensemble vindicates Delibes’s melodic genius

theartsdesk in Aix: Dreaming on

Jasper Rees

From Provence to China: Robert Carsen's great Britten puts a girdle round the earth

Rigoletto, Longborough Festival

Stephen Walsh

Verdi's Mantua transplanted to Detroit but better sung than staged

theartsdesk in Aix-en-Provence: Let's make a Euro-opera

David Nice

Bright young team gathers for a unique project connecting Europeans

Falstaff, Royal Opera

David Nice

The greatest of fat knights and stagecraft triumphant in Verdi's swansong

The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne

Stephen Walsh

Britten chamber opera survives high-sounding libretto thanks to its music

Albert Herring, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music

Alexandra Coghlan

A joyous and brilliantly funny take on Britten's comic opera

Guillaume Tell, Royal Opera

David Nice

Strong musical values versus a production incongruent with the aims of a masterpiece

Pappano's Classical Voices, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Series about great opera singing begins with the queens of the high Cs

The Flying Dutchman, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Uncluttered, semi-staged Wagner, full of musical thrills

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

David Nice

A searing protagonist and plenty of dance in spare, painful staging of Britten's endgame

La Traviata: Love, Death and Divas, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

How Verdi's opera outraged Victorian London

Samson et Dalila, Grange Park Opera

Sebastian Scotney

Saint-Saëns's biblical opera gets a Nazi makeover - with confusing results

The Corridor/The Cure, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A beguiling evening of music-theatre pairs old and new

Tristan und Isolde, Longborough Festival

Stephen Walsh

Wagner still alive and well at Gloucestershire barn festival

theartsdesk in Denmark: 150 years of Nielsen

David Nice

A great symphonist and a national treasure celebrated at home

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Glyndebourne

David Nice

Mozart's vivacious Ottomania truthfully enriched by David McVicar and Robin Ticciati

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Concept still overpowers emotion in this strongly cast revival

Flight, Opera Holland Park

Alexandra Coghlan

Jonathan Dove's airport opera takes off in this glossy new production

First Person: Once More With Feeling

Edgaras Montvidas

Glyndebourne's Lithuanian star tenor on the challenges of filming opera

A Country Doctor, Phaedra, Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Peter Quantrill

Lost in their own worlds: a double-bill of early and late operas by Hans Werner Henze

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

David Nice

Without warmth, questions arise about Richard Strauss's domestic comedy

The Queen of Spades, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A thrilling musical send-off for Edward Gardner

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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