wed 02/09/2015

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Listed: Essential Operas 2015-16


September is upon us and it’s nearly time for the new season. English National Opera’s Artistic Director John Berry may have left the building but his enterprising legacy lives on in a 2015-16 season that looks on paper as good as any in the past 20 years; what happens after that is anyone's guess. Still, there shouldn’t be too much grief that ENO Music Director Edward Gardner has moved on, since his successor Mark Wigglesworth already has a fine track record with the company.Over at the Royal...

The Magic Flute, Komische Oper Berlin, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

In 2007, a tiny British theatre company called 1927 staged their first ever show at the Edinburgh Fringe – the darkly reimagined collection of fairytales and fables Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Now, almost a decade on, they are back where it all began – not at the Fringe but the Edinburgh International Festival, with their acclaimed Komische Oper production of The Magic Flute.If you’ve seen any of 1927’s recent theatre work – The Animals and Children Took to the Streets or Golem –...


Entanglement/ That Man Stephen Ward, Presteigne...

Richard Bratby

Two dramas of sex, sleaze and death in the postwar London underworld: to outsiders, this double bill of chamber operas by Charlotte Bray and Thomas...

Prom Chamber Music 6: Jeremy Denk/ Prom 53: Fray...

David Nice

There were two reasons why I didn’t return to the Albert Hall late on Friday night to hear Andras Schiff play Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The first...

The Last Hotel, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

David Kettle

Irish playwright Enda Walsh has been a regular presence at recent Edinburgh festivals – or, to be more precise, at the Fringe, with provocative works...

HMS Pinafore, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company

Richard Bratby

Fresh and funny G&S, with operatic weight

Ravel Double Bill, Glyndebourne

David Nice

Titters for a Spanish farce, but Laurent Pelly's adventures of a naughty boy are heartbreaking

Prom 25: Orfeo, EBS, Gardiner

Alexandra Coghlan

An operatic paean to the power of music

Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre

David Nice

Ben Whishaw's ambiguous Dionysos and operatic chorus serve superb Euripides translation

Prom 11: Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera

David Nice

Bryn Terfel's effortless Tevye hampered by amplification as the shtetl musical hits the Proms

Xerxes, Longborough Opera

Stephen Walsh

Handel's Persian comedy in a nightclub done with great polish by young singers

theartsdesk at the Buxton Festival: Bloody Lucia, saintly Joan and sweet Louise

Richard Bratby

High operatic standards for Donizetti, Verdi and Charpentier in the Peak District

Saul, Glyndebourne

Alexandra Coghlan

Enfant terrible Barrie Kosky comes of age in this inspired production of Handel's oratorio

Remembering Jon Vickers (1926-2015)


Recollections of a unique tenor from soprano Linda Esther Gray and writer Jonathon Brown

theartsdesk at the Lichfield Festival

Richard Bratby

A slimline Magic Flute in the Cathedral and David Matthews as featured composer

Lakmé, Opera Holland Park

David Nice

Inert staging weighs heavy, but a charming ensemble vindicates Delibes’s melodic genius

theartsdesk in Aix: Dreaming on

Jasper Rees

From Provence to China: Robert Carsen's great Britten puts a girdle round the earth

Rigoletto, Longborough Festival

Stephen Walsh

Verdi's Mantua transplanted to Detroit but better sung than staged

theartsdesk in Aix-en-Provence: Let's make a Euro-opera

David Nice

Bright young team gathers for a unique project connecting Europeans

Falstaff, Royal Opera

David Nice

The greatest of fat knights and stagecraft triumphant in Verdi's swansong

The Rape of Lucretia, Glyndebourne

Stephen Walsh

Britten chamber opera survives high-sounding libretto thanks to its music

Albert Herring, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music

Alexandra Coghlan

A joyous and brilliantly funny take on Britten's comic opera

Guillaume Tell, Royal Opera

David Nice

Strong musical values versus a production incongruent with the aims of a masterpiece

Pappano's Classical Voices, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Series about great opera singing begins with the queens of the high Cs

The Flying Dutchman, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Uncluttered, semi-staged Wagner, full of musical thrills

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

David Nice

A searing protagonist and plenty of dance in spare, painful staging of Britten's endgame

La Traviata: Love, Death and Divas, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

How Verdi's opera outraged Victorian London

Samson et Dalila, Grange Park Opera

Sebastian Scotney

Saint-Saëns's biblical opera gets a Nazi makeover - with confusing results

The Corridor/The Cure, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A beguiling evening of music-theatre pairs old and new

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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