sat 18/11/2017

Opera reviews, news and interviews

'Singers must act better than ever before'

Selina Cadell

"Vary the song, O London, change!" sings Tom Rakewell as he tires of the great metropolis. WH Auden and Chester Kallman's libretto for Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress strikes a chord with me too. London has magnificent opera but, at the top end, it comes at a price. Not just for the audience but for the singers. Lavish sets and costumes force historical productions into revivals.

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

Gavin Dixon

Katie Mitchell’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor opened at Covent Garden in 2016 and now returns for a first revival. Royal Opera were clearly expecting great things, even from the start, and this is the third cast to have presented the show, after two separately cast runs last year, and a commercial DVD is also available.


The Consul, Guildhall School review - blowsy...

David Nice

Fancy that: the day after the last major Menotti staging I can remember in the UK, The Medium at the Edinburgh Festival, "splendid piece of post-...

Crowe, The English Concert, Bicket, Milton Court...

David Nice

Singing students from the Guildhall School should have been issued with a three-line whip to fill the inexplicably half-empty Milton Court concert...

Written On Skin, Melos Sinfonia, LSO St Luke...

Alexandra Coghlan

Beautiful though Katie Mitchell’s original production of Written on Skin is, George Benjamin and Martin Crimp’s opera has always felt more at home in...

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

Aida, English National Opera review - heroine almost saves a dismal day

Jessica Duchen

Phelim McDermott's static and shallow production hosts one glorious performance

Cavalleria Rusticana/Trial by Jury, Opera North review - sombre triumph and pale froth

Graham Rickson

Latest of 'The Little Greats' series is an uneven mix

Oedipe, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - Enescu's masterpiece glorious and complete

David Nice

The London Philharmonic's Principal Conductor probes a complex idiom commandingly

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

David Nice

Odd casting undermines the power of Péter Eötvös's answer to Bartók's masterpiece

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

Peter Quantrill

Adrenaline levels still running high for the second instalment of #ThisisRattle

Pagliacci/L’enfant et les sortilèges, Opera North review - off and on with the motley

Robert Beale

Masterpieces by Leoncavallo and Ravel launch a season of one-acters in style

'Fanny Price’s pained silences gave me the impulse to write music for her'

Jonathan Dove

Jonathan Dove on the genesis and full orchestral premiere of his opera Mansfield Park

‘A massive party full of treats and surprises’: Annabel Arden on six mini masterpieces at Opera North

Annabel Arden

The director of two operas in the Little Greats festival waxes lyrical

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

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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