mon 27/04/2015

Opera reviews, news and interviews

ATTHIS, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

I do wish that arts institutions would stop using the word “immersive” when they simply mean “staged”. Just to be clear, there is nothing “immersive” about Netia Jones’s new staging of Georg Friedrich Haas's song-cycle ATTHIS at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio, whatever the blurb may say. The director’s signature video projections, dance, song and music, come together to create an exquisite, hypnotic piece of very traditional theatre – not a promenade or a broken fourth wall in sight....

Jenůfa, Scottish Opera

Christopher Lambton

Even at the tragic heart of Janáček's Jenůfa there is ambiguity. As the Kostelnička or village sacristan takes her stepdaughter Jenůfa’s baby boy outside to drown it in the icy river, you cannot quite be sure whether she is motivated by pride, fear or her love for Jenůfa. In this poised new co-production by Scottish Opera and Danish National Opera, there is no doubt that she is driven by love. Murderous it may be, and it will nearly destroy her, but her compassion cannot be denied....


The Pirates of Penzance, Touring

David Nice

When does a Gilbert and Sullivan chorus make you laugh, cry and cheer as much as any of the famous set pieces? In this case when Major-General...

10 Questions for Mezzo-Soprano Alice Coote

Thomas H Green

Alice Coote (b.1968) is one of the world’s leading mezzo-sopranos. She grew up in Cheshire, born to two painters, Mark Coote and Mary Moss, and...

King Size, Theater Basel, Linbury Studio Theatre

David Nice

A journey into dreams through songs from Dowland to The Kinks; a Swiss director who, Covent Garden’s Director of Opera Kasper Holten assures us, is “...

Between Worlds, ENO, Barbican

Jessica Duchen

Tansy Davies's 9/11 opera is deeply moving, yet needs to bridge more than worlds

Swanhunter, Opera North, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A colourful family opera brought to life with inventive puppetry

Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

David Nice

Barber, pie-maker and orchestra all predictably consummate, but the staging lacks focus

Why everyone should see The Mysteries from Cape Town

Jasper Rees

How a medieval play from Chester ended up in Xhosa and Zulu

Princess Ida, Finborough Theatre

David Nice

Tweaked plot and lyrics muddy the waters of Gilbert and Sullivan's tricky sexist satire

Amadis de Gaule, UCL Opera

Matthew Wright

Spirited student revival of JC Bach's lovely final opera

Giove in Argo, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music

David Nice

Into the woods with quality Handel, fine young singers and the brilliant Laurence Cummings

Madama Butterfly, Royal Opera

David Nice

Great conductor and soprano realise Puccini's deepest heartbreak to perfection

The Wild Man of the West Indies, ETO, Hackney Empire

Alexandra Coghlan

Far from wild, this show is far too tame for real operatic drama

Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera

Peter Quantrill

Grand designs for an austerity-age opera

Opinion: Where's the crisis at ENO?

David Nice

Something may be rotten at the London Coliseum, but it isn't the artistic team

Alice in Wonderland, BBCSO, Brönnimann, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

A curious tale gets a riotous musical telling

Ruddigore, Charles Court Opera, King's Head Theatre

David Nice

They can sing, dance and make you laugh until you cry: portmanteau G&S at its very best

Le Roi de Lahore, Chelsea Opera Group, QEH

David Nice

Top quality operatic voices in first London performance of Massenet exotica since 1880

Die Zauberflöte, Royal Opera

David Nice

Young lovers, a comic turn and paternal priest triumphant in Covent Garden staple

The Indian Queen, English National Opera

Kimon Daltas

A colourful but eccentric production veers between beauty and incomprehensibility

Hansel and Gretel, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Fairytale masterpiece revived as a brilliant foodie fantasy

Farinelli and the King, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Alexandra Coghlan

A witty and moving new play is a timely reminder of just why art matters

La Vida Breve/Gianni Schicchi, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Exuberant comedy and mishandled tragedy in an uneven double bill

'I'm the photographer. Any nudity? Any fighting?'

Bill Knight

theartsdesk's theatre snapper exposes the secrets of the trade

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, English National Opera

David Nice

Focused joy, and a great philosopher-hero, as Richard Jones's Wagner reaches London

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

This Dutchman finally comes in to port

Leiferkus, LPO, Jurowski, RFH

Matthew Wright

Jurowski’s high-concept operatic pairing flickers brilliantly

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

An exceptional cast make this revolutionary romance a must-see

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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