wed 16/04/2014

Opera reviews, news and interviews

theartsdesk Q&A: Soprano Nicole Cabell

David Nice

Last year a DVD appeared featuring the 15 winning performances from the start of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition up to 2011. I watched them all, skimming if any seemed a notch below par but staying with most. You could see the star quality and the promise in many who have since become great artists, including Karita Mattila, Anja Harteros and Ekaterina Shcherbachenko. But only two seemed like the fully finished article from the start: Siberian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky in...

Powder Her Face, English National Opera, Ambika P3

Alexandra Coghlan

The opening gyrations of Thomas Adès’s bluesy, schmoozy overture to Powder Her Face beckon you into a world of cheap sensation and excess. Accordion, saxophones and sizzle cymbal add their indecent, after-hours suggestions, and you have a microcosm in moments. Almost 20 years on from its premiere, Adès’s opera about the scandalous “Dirty Duchess” still has all the moves. What a shame then that these are obscured in the baggy, cavernous space of English National Opera’s latest field-trip venue...


Prince Igor, Novaya Opera, London Coliseum

David Nice

Had this Moscow production any serious ideas in its head until its suddenly effective epilogue, much might have been pertinently said about an opera...

L’Ormindo, Royal Opera, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Kimon Daltas

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the new indoor Jacobean theatre at The Globe, is an absolute jewel of painstaking historical research and craftsmanship...

theartsdesk in Sydney: Beyond the Cringe

Alexandra Coghlan

I hadn’t heard the term “cultural cringe” until I went to live in Australia. Holiday encounters had been so full of sunshine, art, water and music...

Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera

David Nice

Compelling dream-interpretation of Strauss's myth graced by fine singing and conducting

Le docteur Miracle, Pop-up Opera, The Running Horse

David Nice

Bizet's culinary operetta with random seasoning, no elixir and no meat

A silver rose for Glyndebourne's 80th

David Nice

Season preview for this opera-house aristocrat's new era under conductor Robin Ticciati

Kiri at 70


The great New Zealand soprano embraces septuagenarian status in Covent Garden style

La Fille du régiment, Royal Opera

David Nice

Donizetti's potboiler bubbles at lowish temperatures, but a star tenor still hits the high Cs

theartsdesk in Bordeaux: Bottoms up for Rameau

David Nice

Daring production of an innovative opera-ballet in a perfect 18th-century theatre

Rodelinda, English National Opera

David Nice

Richard Jones' tragicomic mobster Handel, superbly cast, shows us what opera can do

DVD: Becoming Traviata

David Nice

Natalie Dessay is an intense Verdi heroine in oblique behind-the-scenes documentary

Boulevard Solitude, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Henze's take on Prévost exponentially improves on WNO's latest Puccini

The Fairy Queen, Bury Court Opera

Roderic Dunnett

Purcell goes back to school

Paul Bunyan, English Touring Opera, Linbury Studio Theatre

Kimon Daltas

A problem piece with many saving graces inventively and enthusiastically brought to life

HMS Pinafore, Hackney Empire

David Nice

All-male G&S has familiar trademark fun, but weak links and big venue mute the pleasure

Listed: How I Do Love Thee


Let theartsdesk count the ways with our romantic favourites from all over the arts

King Priam, English Touring Opera, Linbury Studio Theatre

David Nice

Cluttered production doesn't help Tippett's tough approach to Trojan War mythology

Rigoletto, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Out with the old 'Rigoletto' and in with the new at ENO

theartsdesk in Oslo: Barocking Handel in the Opera House

David Nice

Norwegian violinist Bjarte Eike's Barokksolistene fill the city's new glory with ravishing sounds

Manon Lescaut, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Puccini charmer rehoused in an airport lounge, saved by the conductor

Macbeth, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Blackly comic, fast-paced Verdi receives a welcome revival

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera

David Nice

No help for the angels in well sung but over-designed take on the enigmatic libertine

Acis and Galatea, Mid Wales Opera, Cardiff

Stephen Walsh

Workmanlike Handel with fine young singers but where's the sex and violence?

Peter Grimes, English National Opera

David Benedict

David Alden's revelatory staging of Britten's masterpiece makes a glorious return

Mark Wigglesworth for ENO

David Nice

One of the great underrated conductors of our time set to take up a big London post at last

The Girl of the Golden West, Opera North

Graham Rickson

Musical glory and dramatic shortcomings in Puccini's Californian gold rush extravaganza

Addio, Claudio Abbado


Two of our writers remember a great conductor who reached perfection in his last years

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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