sat 04/07/2015

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Albert Herring, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music

Alexandra Coghlan

Some of the best nights of opera to be had in London come courtesy of students. It’s not something we talk enough about, possibly because, with four major music colleges in the city, the quality is so high that the performers can (and are) judged as professionals. The Royal College of Music’s Albert Herring is up there with the best of them – an ensemble show bursting with character, detail, wit and an abundance of joy.Britten’s comic opera is blessed with one of the finest and funniest...

Guillaume Tell, Royal Opera

David Nice

There are two operatic types who should leave Rossini’s epic swansong for the stage well alone. One would usually be a conductor who ignores many of the notes written by a master at the height of his powers, since even the least dramatic numbers have musical idiosyncrasy in them. Antonio Pappano still omits, among other things, Rossini’s superb Mozartian canon-trio for women's voices and wind ensemble; but what he does conduct is so focused and shapely that he must be forgiven. Not so his...


Pappano's Classical Voices, BBC Four

Marina Vaizey

Antonio Pappano, artistic director and chief conductor of the Royal Opera House, is a polymath, for he is also a brilliant and persuasive narrator of...

The Flying Dutchman, Opera North

Graham Rickson

We’ve been spoilt over the past few summers in Leeds; Opera North’s semi-staged Ring has been a triumph, and the whole cycle will be performed...

Death in Venice, Garsington Opera

David Nice

Lagoon, miasma and scirocco may seem as far away as you can get from the rolling hills and pleasant airs of the Wormsley Estate in deepest home...

La Traviata: Love, Death and Divas, BBC Two

Adam Sweeting

How Verdi's opera outraged Victorian London

Samson et Dalila, Grange Park Opera

Sebastian Scotney

Saint-Saëns's biblical opera gets a Nazi makeover - with confusing results

The Corridor/The Cure, Linbury Studio Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A beguiling evening of music-theatre pairs old and new

Tristan und Isolde, Longborough Festival

Stephen Walsh

Wagner still alive and well at Gloucestershire barn festival

theartsdesk in Denmark: 150 years of Nielsen

David Nice

A great symphonist and a national treasure celebrated at home

Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Glyndebourne

David Nice

Mozart's vivacious Ottomania truthfully enriched by David McVicar and Robin Ticciati

Don Giovanni, Royal Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Concept still overpowers emotion in this strongly cast revival

Flight, Opera Holland Park

Alexandra Coghlan

Jonathan Dove's airport opera takes off in this glossy new production

First Person: Once More With Feeling

Edgaras Montvidas

Glyndebourne's Lithuanian star tenor on the challenges of filming opera

A Country Doctor, Phaedra, Guildhall School of Music and Drama

Peter Quantrill

Lost in their own worlds: a double-bill of early and late operas by Hans Werner Henze

Intermezzo, Garsington Opera

David Nice

Without warmth, questions arise about Richard Strauss's domestic comedy

The Queen of Spades, English National Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

A thrilling musical send-off for Edward Gardner

Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera

Kimon Daltas

Bryn Terfel is superb in this not-quite-operatic production of the classic musical

Pelléas et Mélisande, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Debussy's masterpiece finds a brilliant production that he would have approved

Listed: Essential BBC Proms


Our classical writers choose 12 of the best

Carmen, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Gavin Dixon

Fresh revival with strong cast and dynamic conducting from Jakub Hrůša

Poliuto, Glyndebourne Festival Opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Donizetti gets Glyndebourne's season off to a sober and psychological start

Carmen, English National Opera

David Nice

Broad brushstrokes and big voices in Calixto Bieito's pacey but half-cooked Bizet

Parsifal, CBSO, Nelsons, Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Peter Quantrill

Much-loved music director begins his long goodbye with Wagner's ritual drama

Il Trovatore, Scottish Opera

David Kettle

Claire Rutter leads a strong cast in dimly lit, static version of Verdi's camp melodrama

Peter Pan, Welsh National Opera

Stephen Walsh

Barrie opera colourfully scored and staged but musically short-winded

Being Both, Coote, English Concert, Bicket, Brighton Dome

Matthew Wright

Fascinating programme and ravishing delivery undermined by symbolic bric-a-brac

The Pirates of Penzance, English National Opera

David Nice

Savoyard supreme Mike Leigh and top cast play it straight to serve a comic masterpiece

Dalibor, BBCSO, Bělohlávek, Barbican

Gavin Dixon

Superior performance makes a compelling case for Smetana’s neglected masterpiece

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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