wed 23/05/2018

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Der Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne - detailed acting, great singing

David Nice

If Hugo von Hofmannsthal's libretto for Richard Strauss in their joint "comedy for music" is the apogee of elaborately referenced dialogue and stage directions in opera, Richard Jones's realisation - for all that it throws out much of the original rulebook - may well be the most rigorously detailed production on the operatic stage today.

Madama Butterfly, Glyndebourne review - perverse staging, outstanding cast

Stephen Walsh

Puccini’s heroines and the rough treatment he hands out to them have come in for plenty of opprobrium over the years.


The Rosenkavalier film, OAE, Paterson, QEH review...

David Nice

Let's face it, Robert "Cabinet of Dr Caligari" Wiene's 1926 film loosely based on Strauss and Hofmannsthal's 1911 "comedy for music" is a mostly...

Lessons in Love and Violence, Royal Opera review...

Alexandra Coghlan

A rope is mercy; a razor-blade to the throat, a kiss; a red-hot poker… But, of course, we never get anything so literal as the poker in George...

Win a Luxury Weekend for Two to celebrate...


Brighton Festival is the UK’s leading annual celebration of the arts, with events taking place in venues both familiar and unusual across Brighton...

Eugene Onegin, Scottish Opera review - sweepingly sumptuous Tchaikovsky

Miranda Heggie

Evocative staging coupled with glorious music-making highlight power and passion

4.48 Psychosis, Royal Opera, Lyric Hammersmith review - despairing truth in song and speech

David Nice

Philip Venables' opera is now as classic as the Sarah Kane drama it sets

The Marriage of Figaro, English Touring Opera review - vanilla Mozart still tastes sweet

Richard Bratby

Strong ensemble and basic staging help Mozart and Da Ponte succeed without tricks

DVD/Blu-ray: Bergman's The Magic Flute

David Nice

Pretty start, heart of darkness: the greatest of all opera films now available to UK viewers

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Royal Opera review - bleak rigour and black comedy still cast a spell

David Nice

Eva-Maria Westbroek returns on top form as Shostakovich's lethally bored housewife

Bernstein's MASS, RFH review - polymorphousness in excelsis

David Nice

Vibrant diversity in this ever-topical 'theatre piece for singers, players and dancers'

Coraline, Royal Opera, Barbican review - spooky story, underwhelming score

David Nice

Performers work hard, but Turnage's new opera isn't scary or involving enough

Soprano Ruby Hughes on Handel's last prima donna

Ruby Hughes

Giulia Frasi researched and reincarnated in a much-loved singer's latest CD

The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera review - sassy, probing and splendidly cast

Jessica Duchen

Young British singers shine in this revival of Fiona Shaw's staging

theartsdesk at the Lucerne Easter Festival: Haitink, Schiff and an alternative Passion

David Nice

Greatest living conductor lights the way as mentor in three days of musical excellence

Ariadne auf Naxos, Scottish Opera review - superb singing in slick new production

Miranda Heggie

Sophisticated Richard Strauss hybrid sung in English and German

Glyndebourne Opera Cup - a view from inside

Jessica Duchen

A Mozartian challenge pulls its weight at prestigious new forum for young singers

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

Robert Beale

Beautiful singing, orchestral warmth and ingenious re-imagining of the fairytale opera

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

David Nice

Daniel Kramer digs a grave for musical-theatre possibilities

Wake, Birmingham Opera Company review - power to the people

Richard Bratby

The chorus is the real star in Giorgio Battistelli's ambitious operatic parable

Rinaldo, The English Concert, Barbican review - Bicket's band steals the spotlight

Alexandra Coghlan

Handel's London opera still serves up the sensations 300 years later

From the House of the Dead, Royal Opera review - Janáček's prison oddity prompts hot tears

David Nice

Hallucinatory intensity from Mark Wigglesworth and Krzysztof Warlikowski

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

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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