sun 23/11/2014

Opera reviews, news and interviews

The Gospel According to the Other Mary, English National Opera

David Nice

A great creative partnership like the one between composer John Adams and director Peter Sellars can endure the occasional wobble. In his peerless autobiography Hallelujah Junction Adams is frank about the information overload in Sellars’ premiere production of the millennial opera-oratorio woven around the birth of Christ, El Niño. His semi-staging of its companion piece The Gospel According to the Other Mary seen at the Barbican last year was, on the other hand, so pure, focused and perfect...

L'Elisir d'Amore, Royal Opera

Jessica Duchen

“Watch out for the dog!” instructs Covent Garden’s programme for its latest revival of L’elisir d’amore. These creatures do have a way of stealing shows, but the canine who dashed across the flat Italian cornfield after Dr Dulcamara’s decrepit lorry had some impressive competition – from Vittorio Grigolo’s behind.The Italian tenor de nos jours, as Nemorino letting his hair down under the influence in part two, was apparently proving himself a hotter mover than the audience had anticipated....


Daphnis et Églé/La Naissance d'Osiris, Les...

Jenny Gilbert

Were it not for William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, the vocal and instrumental ensemble he started in Paris in the 1970s, the beauties of the...

Glare, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

Søren Nils Eichberg’s new opera Glare is advertised as a “taut” thriller. It’s actually a short thriller. Big difference.The question of whether or...

Cristina, Regina di Svezia, Chelsea Opera Group,...

David Nice

One queen is much like another in so-called “historical” Italian early to mid 19th-century opera. Elizabeth of England, Christina of Sweden, take...

Classical CDs Weekly: Barry, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Shostakovich

Graham Rickson

A startling new comic opera, picturesque orchestral music and a terrifying Soviet symphony

The Cunning Peasant, Guildhall School

David Nice

Students deliver Dvořák's folky songs and dances with appropriate youthful zest

Levsha, Maryinsky Opera, Barbican Hall

Alexandra Coghlan

An operatic conceit of enormous wit and charm

Idomeneo, Royal Opera

David Nice

Zero human interest in this power-struggle reduction of Mozart's great Greek myth

Betrothal in a Monastery, Maryinsky Opera, Cardiff

Stephen Walsh

Prokofiev comedy semi-staged with wit and lyrical eloquence

La Bohème, English National Opera

David Nice

Star-voiced lovers move and soar, but revived Jonathan Miller production does little

The Bartered Bride, Opera North

Graham Rickson

An ingenious update gets a stylish revival

Wozzeck, BBCSSO, Runnicles, City Halls, Glasgow

Christopher Lambton

Thomas J Mayer heads stellar cast in showy performance of Berg's masterpiece

theartsdesk Q&A: Conductor Jonathan Nott

David Nice

An Englishman abroad on balancing Mahler and Strauss with contemporary music

Life on the Moon, English Touring Opera

David Nice

Costumes, conductor and star tenor keep this mundane Haydn opera afloat

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

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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