tue 09/02/2016

Opera reviews, news and interviews

The Magic Flute, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

“We are at a time of present crisis.” When Sarastro addressed his boardroom of business-suited acolytes last night, there can’t have been many in the Coliseum whose thoughts didn’t turn to English National Opera. Even by the standards of a company that has spent most of its history fighting for survival, 2015 was a year of unprecedented difficulty. Whether crisis becomes catastrophe remains to be seen, but there couldn’t be a more emphatic portent of success, a better-timed metaphor, than this...

The Devil Inside, Peacock Theatre

David Nice

"I wish I had money," exclaims the weak-willed hero of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress and, hey presto, the devil appears to strike a deal. Auden and Kallman didn't have the last word on Faustian-pact librettos. Now writer Louise Welsh and composer Stuart MacRae, successful collaborators already on the award-winning Ghost Patrol, have had the bright idea of turning a fiendishly clever short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Bottle Imp, into an updated operatic subject.The Devil Inside has a...


L'Étoile, Royal Opera

David Nice

Why have all attempts to make French comic opera funny to British audiences fallen so flat, at least since ENO's 1980s Orpheus in the Underworld?...

Alder, Hulett, Classical Opera, Page, Wigmore Hall

David Nice

Unlike Schubert, Mendelssohn and Shostakovich, Mozart composed nothing astoundingly individual before the age of 20. That leaves any odyssey through...

Tosca, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

To say this latest revival of the Royal Opera’s Tosca peaks early would be an understatement. The shockwaves rippling out from the brass and timpani...

Pelléas et Mélisande, LSO, Rattle, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

A stripped-back staging marks a starry return for Rattle and Sellars

Best of 2015: Opera

David Nice

ENO triumphs despite bleak prospects, while the future looks brighter for young singers

Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera

David Nice

Nicole Car lights up the stage as Tchaikovsky's Tatyana in a variable revival

A Christmas Carol, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Dickensian Christmas as one-man opera only half a good idea

200 Miller Mikados at ENO

David Nice

Ko-Ko's still wielding a special little list as a white, tight craft sails on

Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Verismo gets horribly real in this thrilling new production of two Italian classics

Zazà, BBCSO, Benini, Barbican

David Nice

A diva in full spate captures the true Italianate thrill of Leoncavallo's thoughtful curiosity

Castor et Pollux, St John's Smith Square

Alexandra Coghlan

A concert performance of Rameau rich with musical drama and delight

Morgen und Abend, Royal Opera

David Nice

World premiere of a spellbinding, unified meditation on birth and death

L'Ospedale, Wilton's Music Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

A clean bill of health for this operatic satire on the healthcare system

Tamerlano, Il Pomo d'Oro, Emelyanychev, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

An inexcusably poor evening of music from a superb ensemble

The Force of Destiny, English National Opera

Gavin Dixon

Bieito channels Picasso for a grim but compelling update of Verdi’s tragedy

The Drummer Boy of Waterloo, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh

David Nice

Roles for all, Britten-style, in a children's opera for a major war anniversary

theartsdesk Q&A: Soprano Elizabeth Watts

David Nice

Heading toward major lyric roles, the singer discusses her love for Alessandro Scarlatti

Le Donne Curiose, Guildhall School

David Nice

Youthful charm and a witty production keep Wolf-Ferrari's prolix comedy afloat

Tosca, Wales Millennium Centre

Stephen Walsh

Bryn Terfel's 50th year drawing to a close in Puccini's not-so-shabby shocker

theartsdesk Q&A: Conductor Edward Gardner

Jasper Rees

The English maestro on leaving ENO and London critics to take up the baton in Bergen

Carmen, Royal Ballet

Jenny Gilbert

Carlos Acosta's Covent Garden swansong proves tragic in all the wrong ways

Le Pré aux Clercs, Wexford Festival Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A French operatic delicacy is served just a little too sweet for a contemporary audience

The Turn of the Screw, Aurora Orchestra, LSO St Luke's

David Nice

Sophie Bevan is perfect as Britten’s Governess, but lost in a labyrinth

Das Liebesverbot, Chelsea Opera Group, Cadogan Hall

David Nice

Demented early Wagner salvaged by near-perfect casting and devoted conducting

The Tales of Hoffmann / Werther, English Touring Opera

Richard Bratby

Cinematic fantasy and dangerous emotion in two inventive new productions

Orpheus, Royal Opera, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

David Nice

Peerless young cast and musical ravishment from Christian Curnyn in a Rossi delight

La Bohème, English National Opera

David Nice

Heroin-blighted update of Puccini's realistic tragicomedy is no hit, and sludgily conducted

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

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

The X-Files, Channel 5

Long-awaited sci-fi return gets off to a lacklustre start

Six of the best: Theatre

'The mother of the blues' leads theartsdesk's stage tips

War and Peace, Series Finale, BBC One

A clutch of great performances well filmed, but brevity sells Tolstoy short

Bruegel in Black and White: Three Grisailles Reunited, Court...

Virtuoso works by the Netherlandish master dazzle and beguile

We Made It: Stuntwoman Tracy Caudle

Forget Evel Knievel: a well-crafted stunt is more about precision than dari...

CD: Wendy James - The Price of the Ticket

Transvision Vamp's vamp makes a not entirely convincing stab at New Yo...

Reissue CDs Weekly: The Long Ryders

The complete works of the ill-fated band which marked out Americana’s groun...

CD: Basia Bulat - Good Advice

A captivating fresh approach from the Canadian singer-songwriter

Battlefield, Young Vic Theatre

Peter Brook revisits 'The Mahabharata' with a perfection that ult...

The Magic Flute, English National Opera

Mozart's opera rediscovers its magic in this revelatory revival