tue 27/09/2016

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Così fan tutte, Royal Opera

David Nice

Prospects hadn't seemed that great for this new Covent Garden Così. Could Semyon Bychkov, powerful earth-and-fire conductor of Richard Strauss's darker operas, possibly find the right proportions of air and water in Mozart? Would German director Jan Philipp Gloger prove better than his Bayreuth reputation? As it happened, the sextet of half-unknown principals never sang less than respectably, and the production had some good ideas, though mostly linked to the look of expensive sets rather than...

La Canterina, Classical Opera, Page, Wigmore Hall

Helen Wallace

Papa Haydn might have been tickled to see his early intermezzo, La Canterina, pack out the Wigmore Hall on a Monday night. A night for connoisseurs, then, but Classical Opera has form when it comes to refreshing classical repertoire with the elixir of vocal youth. And with a line-up boasting Susanna Hurrell, Rachel Kelly, Kitty Whately and Robert Murray, this was no exception.Each was neatly introduced through solo arias by Haydn’s Czech contemporary, Josef Mysliveček (b 1737). Prised from his...


Norma, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

You wait ages for a Norma, and then three come along at once. English National Opera saw something nasty in the woodshed back in February with their...

Owen Wingrave, British Youth Opera, Peacock...

Alexandra Coghlan

Owen Wingrave is the Britten opera that always comes with a caveat, an apology. Dramatically flawed (a problem partially, but by no means entirely,...

Prom 68: Semiramide, OAE, Elder

Alexandra Coghlan

Between the Berlin Philharmonic, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra it has been a big week at the Proms, in every...

Prom 45: The Makropulos Affair, BBCSO, Bělohlávek

David Nice

Karita Mattila, in incandescent company, is Janáček's long-lived diva to the life

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Glyndebourne

Alexandra Coghlan

Peter Hall's magical production continues to weave its spell on Britten's opera

The Exterminating Angel, Die Liebe der Danae, Salzburg Festival

David Nice

Brilliant ensemble in Adès's new opera trumps a meaningless Strauss staging

The Yeomen of the Guard, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company

Richard Bratby

Three-dimensional performances trump two-dimensional sets in G&S's darkest opera

Kommilitonen, Welsh National Youth Opera, Barry

Stephen Walsh

Student opera triumphs over the confusions of audience promenading

Béatrice et Bénédict, Glyndebourne

David Nice

Vin ordinaire all round in what should be a sparkling caprice

Prom 11: Wilson, Creswell, BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Wigglesworth

David Nice

High artistry and deep heartbreak in Wagner and Tippett

The Golden Dragon, Music Theatre Wales, Buxton Festival

Richard Bratby

Peter Eötvös's new opera finds a world in a grain of egg fried rice

Jenůfa, Longborough Festival Opera

Stephen Walsh

Janáček's happy-ending tragedy is powerfully moving despite untidy details

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, Royal Opera, Pappano

Gavin Dixon

Impressive ensemble allows Musorgsky's opera to shine in concert

Falstaff, CBSO, Gardner, Symphony Hall Birmingham

Richard Bratby

A concert performance with big voices and a bigger heart

Pick of the BBC Proms 2016


Choices, choices from the world's biggest music festival, starting on Friday

Leonore, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Buxton Festival

Robert Beale

Love stories with a difference in the Peak District

The Magic Flute, Iford Manor Garden

David Nice

Pamina shines and the Three Ladies work hard in charming cloistered Mozart

Il Trovatore, Royal Opera

David Nice

Dark world created around strong, stand-and-deliver Verdi singing

Götterdämmerung, Opera North, Southbank Centre

Alexandra Coghlan

An outstanding Ring goes out in a blaze of glory

Siegfried, Opera North, Southbank Centre

Peter Quantrill

A star soprano shines in the Ring’s conversation piece

Die Walküre, Opera North, Southbank Centre

David Nice

The Ring's most wrenching tragedy excels with a great Wotan and Brünnhilde

Das Rheingold, Opera North, Southbank Centre

David Nice

Fiery demi-god and conductor eclipse any B-casting as a Ring comes south

The Hogboon, LSO, Rattle, Barbican

Helen Wallace

Riotous humanity in Maxwell Davies’s farewell community opera

Le Nozze di Figaro, Longborough Festival Opera

Stephen Walsh

Mozart's subversive masterpiece relocated, not always securely, to August 1914

Werther, Royal Opera

David Nice

Massenet's lovers ill met by moonlight, but the conducting is consummate

Jenůfa, English National Opera

David Nice

Janáček's optimistic tragedy at its most powerful in electrifying revival

Idomeneo, Garsington Opera

David Nice

Balance, but never neutrality, from fine singers and director in lacerating Mozart

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.

Close Footnote

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