fri 22/09/2017

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Senza Sangue/Bluebeard's Castle, Hackney Empire - uneven French-Hungarian mix

David Nice

Has Hackney ever seen or heard such a spectacle – a full Hungarian orchestra taking up most of the Empire stalls to complete the semi-circle of a relatively empty stage? And did enough of London get to hear about it?

La Damnation de Faust, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review - infernal dynamite

Peter Quantrill

For his monster concerts in 1840s Paris, Berlioz took pride in assembling and marshalling a "great beast of an orchestra". At the Barbican on Sunday night, the LSO filled the stage and fitted the bill.


Pagliacci/L’enfant et les sortilèges, Opera North...

Robert Beale

The first two one-acters in Opera North’s season called The Little Greats were unveiled on Saturday. There are six in all, scheduled on a mix-and-...

'Fanny Price’s pained silences gave me the...

Jonathan Dove

When I first read Mansfield Park, some 30 years ago, I heard music. That doesn’t always happen when I read, and it certainly didn’t happen when I...

‘A massive party full of treats and surprises’:...

Annabel Arden

The first day of rehearsals for The Little Greats was thrilling and terrifying in equal measure: the casts of six shows, the whole chorus, all the...

Die Zauberflöte, Royal Opera review – enjoyable revival of much loved production

Bernard Hughes

Mozart’s evergreen crowd-pleaser boasts striking visuals and impressive singing

La Bohème, Royal Opera review - spectacle and sentiment not yet in focus

David Nice

New production from Richard Jones played straight but yet unformed, musically strong

Princess Ida, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company review - sparkling comedy, wobbly sets

Richard Bratby

Classy casting meets old school production values in G&S's battle of the sexes

Prom 61 review: Fleming, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, Oramo - heliotropic ecstasies

David Nice

Great American soprano complements vigorous Swedes and a Finnish master conductor

Edinburgh Festival 2017 review: Verdi's Macbeth - exhilarating and overwhelming

David Kettle

Visually dazzling, musically robust though not always conventionally coherent

Prom 31 review: La Damnation de Faust, Gardiner - Berlioz tumbles out in rainbow colours

David Nice

Youth in the choir and a youthful 74-year-old conductor spark a supernatural masterpiece

Prom 29 review: BBCSO, Bychkov - Musorgsky's Khovanshchina sears in concert

David Nice

Superlative conducting and cast vindicate a drama of political chaos as a total work of art

Michael Volpe on a Requiem for Grenfell: 'one of the most remarkable evenings in our history'

Michael Volpe

Opera Holland Park's General Director on the company's response to losing a team member in the Grenfell Tower fire

La clemenza di Tito, Glyndebourne review - fine musical manoeuvres in the dark

David Nice

Meaningful one-to-ones and Mozartian excellence founder in the obscurity of this setting

Robin Ticciati on conducting Mozart - 'I wanted to create a revolution in the minds of the players'

David Nice

Glyndebourne and Scottish Chamber Orchestra MD on three great symphonies

Le nozze di Figaro, Clonter Opera review - a wedding full of future stars

Robert Beale

Cheshire’s opera farm produces an enviable harvest

Prom 9 review: Fidelio, BBCPO, Mena - classy prison drama rarely blazes

David Nice

Lively conducting and difficult roles well taken, but the supporting cast shines brightest

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance, Royal Opera review - vocal promise, poor stagecraft

David Nice

Four standouts in a fine line-up which needed help with movements and gestures

Katya Kabanova, Opera Holland Park review - clarity and pace in Janáček's Volga tragedy

Gavin Dixon

Well-cast ensemble delivers intense and claustrophobic music-drama

Enter theartsdesk's Young Reviewer of the Year Award


In association with The Hospital Club's h.Club 100 Awards, we're launching a new competition to find a brilliant young critic

El-Khoury, Spyres, Hallé, Rizzi, Cadogan Hall review - bel canto lives again

David Nice

A fine soprano, tenor and conductor serve up true style in early 19th-century rarities

The Magic Flute, Longborough Festival review - sparkling and moving

Stephen Walsh

Mozart's flute with a strong musical bias and not too much business

Buxton Festival review - early Verdi, earlier Mozart and refreshing Britten

Richard Bratby

Three major new productions served hot and strong in the Peak District

Pick of the 2017 BBC Proms: from Orthodox chant to Oklahoma!


theartsdesk's classical music writers make their choices

BambinO / Last And First Men, Manchester International Festival

Robert Beale

‘Opera for babies’ and a voice from 2,000 million years in the future

'Oh, the glamour!' - Roderick Williams weighs up a singer's life

Roderick Williams

The baritone and composer on reaching out to the audience

theartsdesk at Budapest Wagner Days: Bayreuth on the Danube

David Nice

Conductor Ádám Fischer masterminds a mighty 'Ring', 'Rienzi' and 'Parsifal'

Die Walküre, Grange Park Opera review - imaginative and intelligent

Gavin Dixon

Wagner’s epic shines in compelling staging with strong cast

Ariadne auf Naxos, Glyndebourne review – seriously compelling revival

Peter Quantrill

Notable debuts bring fresh energy to Strauss's opera about opera

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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