wed 25/11/2015

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Castor et Pollux, St John's Smith Square

Alexandra Coghlan

An evening of Rameau was never going to be a neutral event. Last Friday all things French became painfully, irretrievably politicised, and while there were no speeches or acknowledgements last night, when Christian Curnyn dispatched the opera’s final ensemble not in fanfares and crescendos but the slyest of diminuendos, it was the perfect response –a Gallic shrug of a gesture, defiant in its charm and wit.Castor and Pollux shouldn’t work in concert – especially not, as in St John’s Smith Square...

Morgen und Abend, Royal Opera

David Nice

It’s never funny like Ligeti’s Le grand macabre, though it touches on that joke apocalypse’s more nebulous soundscapes. Nor is it obviously dynamic like David Sawer’s From Morning to Midnight, with which its title is not to be confused (there are no transitional stages here, only birth and death). Wagner’s cosmic sweeps don't entangle the banal with the numinous like this. So what exactly is the new opera Morning and Evening?Of only one thing I’m sure: Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas and...


L'Ospedale, Wilton's Music Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

Anyone lamenting the current trend for “wellness” and other associated holistic, pseudo-medical fads might want to take themselves for a medicinal...

Tamerlano, Il Pomo d'Oro, Emelyanychev,...

Alexandra Coghlan

The curse of Tamerlano strikes again. The last time London saw Handel’s darkest and most sober opera was in 2010. Graham Vick’s production for the...

The Force of Destiny, English National Opera

Gavin Dixon

Verdi’s dark tale gets even darker in this new staging from Calixto Bieito. He updates the story to the Spanish Civil War, a setting with plenty of...

The Drummer Boy of Waterloo, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh

David Nice

Roles for all, Britten-style, in a children's opera for a major war anniversary

theartsdesk Q&A: Soprano Elizabeth Watts

David Nice

Heading toward major lyric roles, the singer discusses her love for Alessandro Scarlatti

Le Donne Curiose, Guildhall School

David Nice

Youthful charm and a witty production keep Wolf-Ferrari's prolix comedy afloat

Tosca, Wales Millennium Centre

Stephen Walsh

Bryn Terfel's 50th year drawing to a close in Puccini's not-so-shabby shocker

theartsdesk Q&A: Conductor Edward Gardner

Jasper Rees

The English maestro on leaving ENO and London critics to take up the baton in Bergen

Carmen, Royal Ballet

Jenny Gilbert

Carlos Acosta's Covent Garden swansong proves tragic in all the wrong ways

Le Pré aux Clercs, Wexford Festival Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A French operatic delicacy is served just a little too sweet for a contemporary audience

The Turn of the Screw, Aurora Orchestra, LSO St Luke's

David Nice

Sophie Bevan is perfect as Britten’s Governess, but lost in a labyrinth

Das Liebesverbot, Chelsea Opera Group, Cadogan Hall

David Nice

Demented early Wagner salvaged by near-perfect casting and devoted conducting

The Tales of Hoffmann / Werther, English Touring Opera

Richard Bratby

Cinematic fantasy and dangerous emotion in two inventive new productions

Orpheus, Royal Opera, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

David Nice

Peerless young cast and musical ravishment from Christian Curnyn in a Rossi delight

La Bohème, English National Opera

David Nice

Heroin-blighted update of Puccini's realistic tragicomedy is no hit, and sludgily conducted

Sweeney Todd, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Sondheim as opera fails to stay the distance

Kiss Me, Kate, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Brushed up Shakespeare in a sizzling new production

Salome, Bournemouth SO, Karabits, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Richard Bratby

Lise Lindstrom steals the show as a sensual Strauss anti-heroine in concert

Pelléas et Mélisande, English Touring Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A deft chamber arrangement makes for an unusually intimate production

Farinelli and the King, Duke of York's Theatre

David Nice

Music and Mark Rylance charm, but is it enough?

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

Alexandra Coghlan

A soberly beautiful coda to the Barbican's Monteverdi cycle

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

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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