sat 01/11/2014

Opera reviews, news and interviews

La Bohème, English National Opera

David Nice

ENO may not always have matched the Royal Opera in the Great Puccini Voices stakes. But it's served up many of the classiest Mimìs, with Valerie Masterson, Mary Plazas and Elizabeth Llewellyn as top seamstresses. Californian former beauty queen Angel Blue, an acclaimed Musetta in the previous revival, now joins them. Unlike Llewellyn, still awaiting the international recognition she deserves, Blue is also among the favoured roster of young sopranos who, after an interregnum where we wondered...

The Bartered Bride, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Groan-inducing rhymes are becoming a feature of Opera North’s autumn season. Like their Coronation of Poppea, this revival of The Bartered Bride has some cracking lines. Matching "swanky" with "cranky" and "lanky" is pretty neat, but hearing James Creswell’s oleaginous Kecal slip in "hanky-panky" is a masterstroke.Quite why we’ve got sporadic surtitles is a mystery; Leonard Hancock and David Pountney’s smart translation is clearly audible throughout. This company’s chorus is one of its greatest...


Wozzeck, BBCSSO, Runnicles, City Halls, Glasgow

Christopher Lambton

It takes a brave man to programme a single performance of Berg’s Wozzeck on a damp Thursday evening in Glasgow. But Donald Runnicles is such a man....

theartsdesk Q&A: Conductor Jonathan Nott

David Nice

When I entered the light and spacious chief conductor’s room in Bamberg’s Konzerthalle, Jonathan Nott was poised with a coloured pencil over one of...

Life on the Moon, English Touring Opera

David Nice

You may be more familiar with the Italian title, Il mondo della luna, but chances are you won’t have seen this or any of Haydn’s other 16 operas. You...

The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Fiona Shaw's Mozart makes a joyous return to the Coliseum

I Due Foscari, Royal Opera

Sebastian Scotney

Tricky early Verdi gets staid staging and some fine singing, Domingo's included

theartsdesk in Stockholm: A Nobel Prize for Musical Excellence

David Nice

The 2014 Birgit Nilsson Prize brings the Vienna Philharmonic to the Swedish capital

The Trial, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

Glass's second Kafka opera can't quite find the same intensity as the first

Alcina, The English Concert, Bicket, Barbican Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

There was real magic to this performance of Handel's supernatural opera

La Traviata, Glyndebourne Tour

Matthew Wright

Violetta's fall re-imagined as psychological crisis in Verdi's evergreen tragedy

The Coronation of Poppea, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Monteverdi masterpiece played as fast-moving thriller

L'Incoronazione di Poppea, The Academy of Ancient Music, Howarth, Barbican Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

A fine romance, despite a lack of central chemistry

Moses in Egypt, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Rossini's biblical masterpiece brilliantly staged and superbly sung

The Girl of the Golden West, English National Opera

David Nice

Susan Bullock's Minnie gets her gun, and her man, in Puccini's wackiest melodrama

Piau, Les Paladins, Correas, Wigmore Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

An anniversary concert that was more froth than champagne

10 Questions for Soprano Sandrine Piau

Sebastian Scotney

The former harpist who became the connoisseur's soprano of choice for Baroque and early music

Remembering Christopher Hogwood (1941-2014)


Tributes to the conductor, scholar and gentleman from musicians who worked with him

DiDonato, Lyon Opera Orchestra, Minasi, Barbican Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

This Artist Spotlight opens with a bel canto bang

Carmen, Mid Wales Opera

Stephen Walsh

Bizet with Jonathan Miller's small forces makes more impact than the Cardiff version

10 Questions for Conductor Vladimir Jurowski

Jessica Duchen

LPO maestro on the ins and outs of Rachmaninov, focus of this season's celebration

La Traviata, Opera North

Graham Rickson

A fast-moving, well-cast production of Verdi's crowd-pleaser

Carmen, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Bizet's crowd-pleasing masterpiece sadly creaks in this lazy, by-the-numbers revival

Xerxes, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

This vintage Handel is pretty, witty and more youthful than ever

Otello, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A dark and potent version of Verdi is David Alden at his best

William Tell, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Rossini's last opera is finely done but has rather too many longueurs

Anna Nicole, Royal Opera

Heppy Longworth

Cambridge undergraduate reports from student-audience first night revival of Turnage's opera

Façade/Eight Songs for a Mad King, Grimeborn Opera, Arcola Theatre

Bernard Hughes

Two groundbreaking classics brought together in a new theatrical interpretation

Prom 59: Elektra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Bychkov

Edward Seckerson

Second Strauss horror-opera of the Proms weekend fails to hit home

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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