wed 24/08/2016

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Prom 45: The Makropulos Affair, BBCSO, Bělohlávek

David Nice

Karel Čapek, the great Czech writer who pioneered some of the most prophetic dramatic fantasies of the early 20th century, thought Janáček was nuts to want to set his wordy play about a 337-year-old woman to music. He could not have anticipated what that septuagenarian genius would achieve. Some of us felt similarly doubtful about singers performing this most conversational of operas with scores and music stands in a "concert staging". But the Albert Hall can be as surprising and as...

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Glyndebourne

Alexandra Coghlan

Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is too other-worldly to have anything as mortal as a musical heartbeat. Pulsing through it instead are musical quivers, jolts of eerie energy first heard in the opening cello glissandi. Denaturing the instrument, transforming it from a voice so nearly human to one of harmonic and textural androgyny, Britten cuts away the safety cables of Shakespeare’s framing court scenes, plunging his young lovers straight into the fairy forest where anything is possible and...


The Exterminating Angel, Die Liebe der Danae,...

David Nice

"Because the world has outlived its own downfall, it nevertheless needs art." Paul Celan's words stand alongside Anselm Kiefer's Jacob's Dream, part...

The Yeomen of the Guard, National Gilbert &...

Richard Bratby

By the end of Act One of The Yeomen of the Guard there's been a jailbreak, a clandestine marriage, a swapped identity and a cancelled beheading. The...

Kommilitonen, Welsh National Youth Opera, Barry

Stephen Walsh

What happened was this. I found my way, not without difficulty, to the Barry Memo Arts Centre, got my ticket, had a chat with the librettist, stopped...

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

theartsdesk at the Holland Festival

James Woodall

Dutchness, audio-jungle, dirty minds and Dunsinane at one of Europe's premier arts festivals

Don Giovanni, Classical Opera, Page, Cadogan Hall

Gavin Dixon

A dramatic account, demonstrating that period instruments can still surprise in Mozart

Be With Me Now, Britten Studio, Snape

David Nice

Nine superb young musicians unite in fluid operatic Euromance

Alberto Remedios: 'his natural instrument obeyed his inner thoughts with ease'

Linda Esther Gray

A great Isolde remembers a great Tristan, who has died aged 81

The Beggar's Opera, University of Birmingham

Richard Bratby

Benjamin Britten meets Austerity Britain in a resourceful student production

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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Belarus Free Theatre presents


Wed 31 Aug - Sat 24 Sep 2016, 7.15pm (2.30pm Sat matinees)

Soho Theatre

Tickets from £10


Belarus Free Theatre combine forces with Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina to share stories of persecuted artists, living under dictatorship, who will not be silenced.


What happens when you are declared an enemy of the state simply for making art? Where do you belong when your government suppresses your basic right to expression? And how do you survive in one of the most brutal prison systems in the world?


This brand new production blends sensuous theatricality and vigorous physicality to shine a light on the suppression of artistic freedoms. Drawn from the real-life stories of Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky, incarcerated Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Maria Alyokhina, who makes her stage debut.


One of the bravest and most inspired underground troupes on the planet.’ New York Times


‘For the BFT, political theatre is not a genre, but a necessity.’ Vanity Fair


Created in partnership with ArtReach as part of Journeys Festival International; Co-commissioned by Art Centre Melbourne. Funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.


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