sun 23/07/2017

Opera reviews, news and interviews

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

David Nice

What a pity Beethoven never composed an appendage to Fidelio called The Sorrows of Young Marzelline. One crucial moment apart, the music he gives to his second soprano in his only opera isn't his best, but Louise Alder so lived the role of the gaoler's daughter in love with a woman disguised as a man that everything else felt rather less intense. It's only fair to say that there were other singers facing bigger challenges very stylishly, for the most part, but neither they nor the BBC...

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

David Nice

They get to work with the best music and language coaches in the business. They make their mark in small parts throughout the Royal Opera season and showcase their art more prominently at the end of it, proving to the world that there are major talents among them (four outstanding ones, I reckon, on this showing).


Katya Kabanova, Opera Holland Park review -...

Gavin Dixon

Katya Kabanova is an ideal fit for Opera Holland Park’s verismo-focussed programming. It’s Czech, of course, but the dramatic style is very close to...

Enter theartsdesk's Young Reviewer of the...


The Hospital Club’s annual h.Club100 awards celebrate the most influential and innovative people working in the UK’s creative industries, with...

El-Khoury, Spyres, Hallé, Rizzi, Cadogan Hall...

David Nice

Unless you're an undiscriminating fan of bel canto, the lesser Italian and French operas of the 1830s and '40s - that's to say, not Verdi's Nabucco...

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

Mitridate, Re di Ponto, Royal Opera review - Crowe and costumes light up pointless revival

David Nice

Good singing not enough to justify the return of Graham Vick's 1991 production

Albert Herring, The Grange Festival review - playing it straight yields classic comedy gold

David Nice

A true ensemble has a focused ball under veterans John Copley and Steuart Bedford

Fidelio, Longborough Festival review - death to the concept of concepts

Stephen Walsh

Beethoven's only opera musically solid but imprisoned in a director's bad idea

Otello, Royal Opera review — Kaufmann makes a pretty Moor

Ismene Brown

New production of Verdi's tragedy is a trial to look at - and heaven to listen to

Pelléas et Mélisande, Garsington Opera review - brilliant but frustrating

Stephen Walsh

Masterpiece of communication failure beautifully played and designed but impassively staged

Der Rosenkavalier, Welsh National Opera review - hard to imagine a stronger cast

Stephen Walsh

Music conquers all in Strauss masterpiece, but the director gets some things right

Hamlet, Glyndebourne review - integrity if not genius in Brett Dean's score

David Nice

Total work of art status for this labour of love on a fascinating but flawed new opera

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Snape Maltings

Alexandra Coghlan

A starry cast cannot quite bring this blurred 'Dream' into focus

Tristan und Isolde, Longborough Festival

Stephen Walsh

Wagner benefits as usual from the intimacy of Longborough's converted barn theatre

'The challenge is to make something of not very much': Iestyn Davies on Britten's Oberon

Iestyn Davies

The countertenor, singing the Fairy King at Aldeburgh, traces the role's history

'You are my hero, dear Jiří': Karita Mattila and others remember Jiří Bělohlávek


A younger conductor, a diva and four players salute the greatest of Czech musicians

Radamisto, Guildhall School, Milton Court

Alexandra Coghlan

Handel's late opera gets a witty reimagining

theartsdesk in Göttingen: Handel for all

David Nice

Dazzling singers, clavichord at sunrise and a generous spirit in the heart of Germany

La Rondine, Opera Holland Park

David Nice

Elizabeth Llewellyn soars in Puccini's tuneful waltz-dream

L'Orfeo, EBS, Gardiner, Colston Hall, Bristol

Stephen Walsh

Gardiner's Monteverdi ends at the beginning and is none the worse for that

theartsdesk Q&A: Soprano Aida Garifullina

David Nice

The Kazan-born prima donna on Prokofiev, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stephen Frears

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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