fri 28/10/2016

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Alcina, RAM, Round Chapel, Hackney


Handel’s Alcina is about sex, certainly. But unlike Olivia Fuchs’s new production for the Royal Academy of Music, it’s about an awful lot of other things as well. Power, illusion, ageing, love, gender, family, intimacy – all these themes find themselves transformed on Alcina’s magical island, reworked by the end into ideas that are altogether darker and more complicated. But there’s nothing complicated about this vision.

Martyn Brabbins: a safe pair of hands at ENO


No-one can easily replace Mark Wigglesworth as Music Director of English National Opera: ask any of the musicians working there and you'll find they're all heartbroken. That said, they could not have chosen a nicer man or a better all-round musician than Martyn Brabbins.


The Nose, Royal Opera


Even that most unpredictable of fantasists Nikolay Gogol might have been surprised to find his Nose, wandering far from the face of Collegiate...

Billy Budd, Opera North


"That cursed mist" may hide the French from the crew of the HMS Indomitable and cause far more deadly damage to moral certainty. But clarity and...

Madama Butterfly, Glyndebourne Tour


What would Glyndebourne, staging Madama Butterfly for the first time, bring to Puccini's most heartbreaking tragedy? Subtle realism, perhaps?...

The Fairy Queen, AAM, Barbican


A scrappy staging distracts from a superb performance of Purcell's semi-opera

Il Tabarro, Suor Angelica, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Something horrifying, something sentimental in two thirds of Puccini's 'Il Trittico'

Don Giovanni, English National Opera


Offbeat drama and meaningful singing in Mozart's trickiest masterpiece

Stravinsky: Myths and Rituals 5, Philharmonia, Salonen, RFH

Helen Wallace

Spine-tingling finale to a visionary series

Kiss Me, Kate, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Cole Porter's brushed-down Shakespeare true in its fashion

Così fan tutte, Royal Opera


Conducting, not production, kills pace, singing – and Mozart

La Canterina, Classical Opera, Page, Wigmore Hall

Helen Wallace

Youthful elixir revives Haydn's sparkling material girl

Norma, Royal Opera


This contemporary religious fantasy of a Norma creates a striking spectacle

Owen Wingrave, British Youth Opera, Peacock Theatre


Stylish visuals can't quite give this static opera life

Prom 68: Semiramide, OAE, Elder


A barnstorming evening of bel canto

Prom 45: The Makropulos Affair, BBCSO, Bělohlávek


Karita Mattila, in incandescent company, is Janáček's long-lived diva to the life

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Glyndebourne


Peter Hall's magical production continues to weave its spell on Britten's opera

The Exterminating Angel, Die Liebe der Danae, Salzburg Festival


Brilliant ensemble in Adès's new opera trumps a meaningless Strauss staging

The Yeomen of the Guard, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company

Richard Bratby

Three-dimensional performances trump two-dimensional sets in G&S's darkest opera

Kommilitonen, Welsh National Youth Opera, Barry

Stephen Walsh

Student opera triumphs over the confusions of audience promenading

Béatrice et Bénédict, Glyndebourne


Vin ordinaire all round in what should be a sparkling caprice

Prom 11: Wilson, Creswell, BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Wigglesworth


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


Pamina shines and the Three Ladies work hard in charming cloistered Mozart

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

Thank you for continuing to read our work on 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 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 Young Pope, Sky Atlantic

Having survived what you might call his boy-band years, Jude Law has emerged as a truly substantial actor, and his role here as Lenny Belardo, the...

Anastasia, Royal Ballet

The reception of Kenneth MacMillan's ballet Anastasia has some similarities with that accorded the Berlin asylum patient who some...

Howard Davies: An Appreciation

Howard Davies, the theatre director who has died at the too-early age of 71, may not have achieved the renown of many of his colleagues. He didn’t...

Wallfisch, LPO, Vänskä, RFH

Osmo Vänskä isn't by any means the only Finn who conducts magnificent Sibelius. Sakari Oramo is the BBC Symphony Orchestra...

Skylanders Imaginators

The Skylanders titles are at the forefront of the toys-to-life genre. Players place plastic figurines on a physical "portal" connected to the...

CD: The Early Years - II

It was 2008 when The Early Years went into the studio to begin work on the follow-up to their impressive self-titled debut. Having pretty much set...

10 Questions for Director Lucy Bailey

Theatre was not Lucy Bailey’s first target. At school she was a flautist, headed probably for music. Then, in her gap year, she took a job as a...

Jamie Barton, Wigmore Hall

American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton has a wonderful, characterful voice, with apparently effortless and even tone production and control. She...

Adriaen van de Velde, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Oh, those dogs: just a flick of the brush, and there they are, bursting with life. Pets, hunting dogs, companions, strays: romping on beaches, or...