sat 20/12/2014

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Un Ballo in Maschera, Royal Opera

David Nice

Covent Garden’s masked balls circling around the New Year feature not the seasonal bourgeois Viennese couple and a bat-winged conspirator but a king, his best friend’s wife and – excessively so in this production – the grim reaper. Big voices are what’s needed if it’s Verdi rather than Johann Strauss II, and if we can’t have Jonas Kaufmann, who’s committed his energies to a lesser protagonist, Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, this coming January, then much-trumpeted Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja will...

The Way Back Home, ENO, Young Vic

Alexandra Coghlan

A Martian, a Spitfire and a flatulent penguin are the unlikely ingredients for The Way Back Home, English National Opera’s first foray into the colourful world of children’s opera. And if those don’t sound like enticement enough, be reassured, at only 45 minutes long this really is a child-friendly taster of a genre that doesn’t always get the best press when it comes to accessibility.Amahl and the Night Visitors, L'enfant et les sortilèges, Hansel and Gretel, Where the Wild Things Are: opera...


Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera

David Nice

Eternal love is in the air, not seasonal fluff, at the Royal Opera this December. Later in the month Verdi’s most ecstatic duet, in Un ballo in...

theartsdesk in Oslo: Two Peer Gynts and a Hamlet

David Nice

Not so much a national hero, more a national disgrace. That seems to be the current consensus on Peer Gynt as Norway moves forward from having...

Pelléas et Mélisande, Philharmonia, Salonen, RFH

Alexandra Coghlan

In an operatic world in which the director is an increasingly despotic king, it’s good to be reminded that, sometimes, not staging an opera is the...

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

The Bartered Bride, Opera North

Graham Rickson

An ingenious update gets a stylish revival

Wozzeck, BBCSSO, Runnicles, City Halls, Glasgow

Christopher Lambton

Thomas J Mayer heads stellar cast in showy performance of Berg's masterpiece

theartsdesk Q&A: Conductor Jonathan Nott

David Nice

An Englishman abroad on balancing Mahler and Strauss with contemporary music

Life on the Moon, English Touring Opera

David Nice

Costumes, conductor and star tenor keep this mundane Haydn opera afloat

The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Fiona Shaw's Mozart makes a joyous return to the Coliseum

I Due Foscari, Royal Opera

Sebastian Scotney

Tricky early Verdi gets staid staging and some fine singing, Domingo's included

theartsdesk in Stockholm: A Nobel Prize for Musical Excellence

David Nice

The 2014 Birgit Nilsson Prize brings the Vienna Philharmonic to the Swedish capital

The Trial, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

Glass's second Kafka opera can't quite find the same intensity as the first

Alcina, The English Concert, Bicket, Barbican Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

There was real magic to this performance of Handel's supernatural opera

La Traviata, Glyndebourne Tour

Matthew Wright

Violetta's fall re-imagined as psychological crisis in Verdi's evergreen tragedy

The Coronation of Poppea, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Monteverdi masterpiece played as fast-moving thriller

L'Incoronazione di Poppea, The Academy of Ancient Music, Howarth, Barbican Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

A fine romance, despite a lack of central chemistry

Moses in Egypt, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Rossini's biblical masterpiece brilliantly staged and superbly sung

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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