tue 20/03/2018

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Hansel and Gretel, RNCM, Manchester review – an urban dream

Robert Beale

Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel is a ‘"fairytale opera" (its composer’s description), and yet one characteristic frequently commented on is its "Wagnerian" scoring. For this production, with David Pountney’s English translation, the RNCM used Derek Clark’s reduced orchestration.

La traviata, English National Opera review - into a vortex of ineptitude

David Nice

You don't have to be a good director to manage the artistic side of an opera house. Daniel Kramer arrived at ENO and boosted morale at a time when company relations with then-CEO Cressida Pollock had hit rock bottom, and his repertoire choices for the new limited seasons look fine so far.


Wake, Birmingham Opera Company review - power to...

Richard Bratby

“Would you like a veil?” asked a steward, offering a length of black gauze, and when you’re at a production by Birmingham Opera Company it’s usually...

Rinaldo, The English Concert, Barbican review -...

Alexandra Coghlan

It was the work with which Handel conquered London, the Italian opera that finally wooed a suspicious English audience to the charms of Dr Johnson’s...

From the House of the Dead, Royal Opera review -...

David Nice

A political prisoner is brutally initiated into the life of a state penitentiary, and leaves it little over 90 minutes later. Four inmates reveal...

A Midsummer Night's Dream, ENO review - shiveringly beautiful Britten

David Benedict

There's magic in the details of Robert Carsen's well-established classic production

Dialogues des Carmélites, Guildhall School review - calm and humane drama of faith

Sebastian Scotney

Poulenc's masterpiece presented with considered unity but lacking textual subtlety

La Vie Parisienne, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire review - vintage champagne in a new bottle

Richard Bratby

A celebratory production adds up to more than the sum of its parts

Dead Man Walking, Barbican review - timely and devastating meditation on human violence and forgiveness

Alexandra Coghlan

Jake Heggie's outstanding first opera finally receives its UK premiere

Flight, Scottish Opera review - poignant and powerful, this production soars

Miranda Heggie

Opera Holland Park's 2015 staging flies north of the border

Iolanthe, English National Opera review - bright and beautiful G&S for all

David Nice

Cal McCrystal's pretty, hilarious show should delight young and old alike

Un ballo in maschera, Opera North review - decent, no more

Graham Rickson

Dramatically muddled, musically satisfying account of a Verdi masterpiece

Tosca, Welsh National Opera review - ticking the traditionalist boxes

Stephen Walsh

Pasteboard verismo done by the book with impressive results

Carmen, Royal Opera review - clever concept, patchy singing, sexy dancing

David Nice

No central chemistry, but Barrie Kosky serves up set pieces full of panache

La forza del destino, Welsh National Opera review - rambling drama, fine music

Stephen Walsh

Verdi's Russo-Spanish hotchpotch given the full treatment with mixed success

Orlando, La Nuova Musica, SJSS review - Handel painted in primary colours

Alexandra Coghlan

Comedy turned caricature in this rather heavy-handed performance

Having a Verdi ball: conductor Richard Farnes on Opera North's upcoming production

Richard Farnes

Hugely respected former Music Director on returning for 'Un ballo in maschera'

Das Rheingold, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - orchestral revelations, but cursing Alberich trumps wooden Wotan

David Nice

Clear but often aloof exposition of Wagner's 'preliminary evening' to the Ring

BBCSO, Pons, Barbican review - love hurts in vivid Spanish double bill

David Nice

Flamenco singer in Falla and dramatic mezzo as Granados's heroine cue vibrant passion

The Return of Ulysses, Royal Opera, Roundhouse review - musical drama trumps dodgy stagecraft

David Nice

Monteverdi magic from peerless performers, triumphing over a messy production

Salome, Royal Opera review – lurid staging still packs a punch

Gavin Dixon

Compelling production returns, but with a patchy cast

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review – maturity from teenage players

Robert Beale

Birthday celebration includes vivid performance of first complete opera

theartsdesk Q&A: Composer, chansonnier and conductor HK Gruber at 75

David Nice

On how Weill and Hanns Eisler gave him direction in the 1970s - and on meeting Lenya

Best of 2017: Opera

David Nice

Company spirit and artistic teamwork top of the list

Classical CDs Weekly Special: Callas Live

David Nice

La Divina electrifying in performances spanning 15 years

Cendrillon, RNCM, Manchester review - magic and spectacle

Robert Beale

Triumph for director Olivia Fuchs in Massenet’s version of Cinderella

Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci, Royal Opera review - one tenor, two samey brutes

David Nice

Bryan Hymel's strong-man double-act outshone by Elīna Garanča's Santuzza

I, Object review - this operatic double-bill delivers just a single hit

Alexandra Coghlan

A bright new talent and a tired old bore make for uneasy bedfellows

theartsdesk in Stockholm - HK Gruber and sacred monsters

David Nice

Viennese composer, conductor, chansonnier and double-bass player is a force of nature

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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