fri 19/09/2014

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Xerxes, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Nicholas Hytner’s 1988 Magic Flute may have trilled its last at English National Opera, but judging by the wit, the joy and the energy on display last night it would be absolutely criminal to put the director’s even more elderly Xerxes out to pasture – the show that brought Handel back into fashion when it premiered in 1985.I was a little too busy being born to attend the production’s first outing, so came late to the party at its most recent outing in 2005. Revival director Michael Walling has...

Otello, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

From one great operatic storm to another. 2014 opened at English National Opera with David Alden’s Peter Grimes, gale-tossed and wet with sea-spray, and now the director turns his attention to Verdi’s Otello. Restlessly urgent, Edward Gardner’s opening assaulted us with timpani thunderclaps, stabbing into the silent auditorium as Otello himself would do just a few hours later. Tragedy is written into the musical fabric of Verdi’s opera, and in Alden’s new production we have a pervasive...


William Tell, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

A few months ago, while looking something up about Liszt’s piano piece “Chapelle de Guillaume Tell,” I discovered to my horror that William Tell –...

Anna Nicole, Royal Opera

Heppy Longworth

Even before I stepped into the Royal Opera House, it was clear to see that it had been transformed for the opening performance of Mark-Anthony...

Façade/Eight Songs for a Mad King, Grimeborn...

Bernard Hughes

Walton’s Façade is not performed very often in London, but this weekend there is the opportunity to hear it four days in a row: on Monday at a...

Prom 59: Elektra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Bychkov

Edward Seckerson

Second Strauss horror-opera of the Proms weekend fails to hit home

Prom 58: Salome, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Runnicles

David Nice

Nina Stemme stuns in a giddying account of Strauss's incredible score

Les Troyens, Mariinsky Opera, Gergiev, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Christopher Lambton

Russian stars bring rich operatic highlight to last week of Edinburgh Festival

Guglielmo Tell, Teatro Regio Torino, Noseda, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Hanna Weibye

Wildly thrilling Festival performance enough to convert anyone to Rossini

Rinaldo, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Schoolboy humour transforms Handel's opera into a deliciously adult drama

Alright on the Night: at Glyndebourne with the OAE

Adam Sweeting

The view from the pit as Handel's 'Rinaldo' returns to leafiest East Sussex

Prom 28: D'Orazio, Clayton, BBCSO, Oramo

Edward Seckerson

A great Stravinskyan king and queen surpass mood music for electric violin and strings

theartsdesk in Bregenz: A floating opera festival

Alexandra Coghlan

Operatic fireworks (and dragons and acrobats) at the Bregenz Festival

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Opera Holland Park

David Nice

Will Todd's moveabout opera for children of all ages beguiles in a secret garden

Opinion: What does opera have to say to the under-30s?

Alexandra Coghlan

Will Glyndebourne's under-30s ticket scheme help the art form?

Prom 6: Der Rosenkavalier, LPO, Ticciati

Kimon Daltas

The Albert Hall may not be ideal for opera but Glyndebourne's latest visit fizzed with energy

La traviata, Glyndebourne

David Nice

All musical elements fused to make great, stylish music drama of Verdi's intimate tragedy

theartsdesk Q&A: Tenor Michael Fabiano

David Nice

American singer on the brink of superstardom talks Verdi, competition and inspiration

Così fan tutte, European Opera Centre, RLPO, Pillot, St George’s Hall Concert Room, Liverpool

Glyn Môn Hughes

Young singers, Liverpool's great orchestra and a sassy production pull off intimate Mozart

Lorin Maazel (1930-2014) on Puccini's Golden Girl

David Nice

The conductor, who has died aged 84, enthusing in 1991 about a masterpiece

Diaghilev Festival Gala, London Coliseum

David Nice

First-rate work, high energy and musical glories from a little-known Moscow company

theartsdesk in Buxton: Dvořák rarity, Gluck tercentenary

Philip Radcliffe

'The Jacobin' comes up for air alongside 'Orfeo ed Euridice'

The Queen of Spades, Grange Park Opera

Stephen Walsh

Tchaikovsky masterpiece revived in a production that listens to the music

The Golden Cockerel, Diaghilev Festival, London Coliseum

David Nice

Musical values outstanding, decor and dance not bad in tribute to Diaghilev opera-ballet

Nightmare in Aix: Sarah Connolly on a shocking first night

Sarah Connolly

The great mezzo reports on how her Ariodante at the French festival was sabotaged

Pinnock's Passions, Handel's Garden, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Kimon Daltas

Musical showman leads candlelit exploration of magpie composer

Maria Stuarda, Royal Opera House

Alexandra Coghlan

A bloody good attempt to reinvent Donizetti's romance as a contemporary tragedy

The Barber of Seville, Longborough Festival

Stephen Walsh

Sparkling Rossini reflects director's work ethic rather than concepts

The Turn of the Screw, Opera Holland Park

Alexandra Coghlan

The evenings are warm but this ghost story casts a real chill

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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