thu 18/01/2018

Opera reviews, news and interviews

The Return of Ulysses, Royal Opera, Roundhouse review - musical drama trumps dodgy stagecraft

David Nice

The power of music solves every problem, at least when as bewitchingly performed as it was here.

Salome, Royal Opera review – lurid staging still packs a punch

Gavin Dixon

David McVicar may seem too gentle a soul for the lurid drama of Strauss's Salome, but his production, here returning to Covent Garden for a third revival, packs a punch.


National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Elder...

Robert Beale

Seventy years old and still imbued with youthful flair and enthusiasm – that’s the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, which pioneered new...

theartsdesk Q&A: Composer, chansonnier and...

David Nice

You haven't lived until you've witnessed Viennese maverick H(einz) K(arl) Gruber – 75 today (3 January, publication day) – speech-singing, conducting...

Best of 2017: Opera

David Nice

It may not have been the best year for eye-popping productions; even visionary director Richard Jones fell a bit short with a tame-ish Royal Opera...

Classical CDs Weekly Special: Callas Live

David Nice

La Divina electrifying in performances spanning 15 years

Cendrillon, RNCM, Manchester review - magic and spectacle

Robert Beale

Triumph for director Olivia Fuchs in Massenet’s version of Cinderella

Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci, Royal Opera review - one tenor, two samey brutes

David Nice

Bryan Hymel's strong-man double-act outshone by Elīna Garanča's Santuzza

I, Object review - this operatic double-bill delivers just a single hit

Alexandra Coghlan

A bright new talent and a tired old bore make for uneasy bedfellows

theartsdesk in Stockholm - HK Gruber and sacred monsters

David Nice

Viennese composer, conductor, chansonnier and double-bass player is a force of nature

Falstaff, RLPO, Petrenko, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall review - Bryn Terfel leads a merry dance

David Nice

Two consummate one-to-ones crown generous, hit-and-miss Verdi

The Bear, Mid Wales Opera review - small stage, big ambitions

Richard Bratby

Walton's comic opera goes down like a shot of salted caramel Stoli in a sparky touring production

Remembering Dmitri Hvorostovsky (1962-2017)

David Nice

The great Siberian baritone, who has died at the age of 55, leaves behind a golden legacy

The Rake's Progress, Wilton's Music Hall review - mercurial Stravinsky made cumbersome

David Nice

Fine cast, but playing and production need both sharpening and lightening up

Semiramide, Royal Opera review - Rossini's Queen is back

William Ward

Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano resuscitate the uxoricidal Assyrian ruler

Marnie, English National Opera review – hyped new opera doesn’t hit the heights

Bernard Hughes

Nico Muhly’s world premiere offered musical pleasures but too many flaws to be great

'Singers must act better than ever before'

Selina Cadell

OperaGlassWorks collaborate with singers from the start. Director Selina Cadell explains

Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera review - creepy, violent and intense

Gavin Dixon

Powerful staging returns in well-cast revival

The Consul, Guildhall School review - blowsy melodrama rooted by committed students

David Nice

Overheated fusion of absurdist drama and bureaucratic parody works where it can

Crowe, The English Concert, Bicket, Milton Court review - Mozartian prima-donna perfection

David Nice

No-one sings 'Exsultate, jubilate' better - and the players shone, too

Written On Skin, Melos Sinfonia, LSO St Luke's review - an ambitious musical achievement

Alexandra Coghlan

A taut telling of this timeless musical fable

The World's Wife, Wales Millennium Centre, Weston Studio review - the power and frustration behind the throne

Stephen Walsh

Stunning one-woman show telling male genius where it gets off

Lucy Worsley's Nights at the Opera, BBC Two review - there's anti-elitism, and there's infantilism

Jasper Rees

The poshies' art form explained by use of the dressing-up box and the toy box

Osud/Trouble in Tahiti, Opera North - swings and roundabouts in a surprising double-bill

David Nice

Janáček sold short, Bernstein in a top-notch production with a star performance

Hansel and Gretel, Pop-Up Opera review - salty-sweet production takes wry pleasure in classic fairytale

Alexandra Coghlan

Fringe company pops up in the Museum of Childhood

From the House of the Dead, Welsh National Opera review - elderly staging, music comes up fresh

Stephen Walsh

Janáček's searing Siberian portrait musically gripping if dramatically antiquated

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics, V&A review - seven cities, seven masterpieces

David Nice

Stunning range in spacious operatic rooms

Dardanus, English Touring Opera review - mixed fortunes for warzone updating

Gavin Dixon

Serviceable modern-dress production puts Rameau’s music centre stage

Khovanshchina/Eugene Onegin, Welsh National Opera review - Russian revivals strong and weak

Stephen Walsh

Mussorgsky torso again comes into focus as a work of genius, unlike Tchaikovsky's classic

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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