tue 05/07/2022

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Alcina, Glyndebourne review - Handel on the strand

Stephen Walsh

Reviewing the Grange Festival production of Tamerlano the other day, I noted the difficulty Handel poses the modern director with his byzantine plots and often ludicrous love tangles, expressed through music of surpassing brilliance but mostly stereotyped forms. But at least Tamerlano is a comprehensible story with its feet planted firmly in a sort of reality. 

Così fan tutte, Royal Opera review - vibrant youth and vocal beauty

David Nice

Irish soprano Jennifer Davis, a stunning Elsa in this Royal Opera season's revival of Wagner’s Lohengrin, was the lure to sit through Jan Philipp Gloger's Mozart Così again (the title, by the way – "All Women Do It" – belies the complexity applied to a schematic plot). As it turned out, the mixed-up couples were all love’s young dream, which made it all the more of a shame that this production remains determined to squash their hopes and even their new matches.


theartsdesk in Zurich - forging a brilliant new...

David Nice

Could this be the summer Bayreuth finally sees a new Ring production that comes anywhere near its last great epic success, Harry Kupfer’s, which ran...

theartsdesk Q&A: bass-baritone Christopher...

David Nice

He’s the most haunting, at times terrifying Wozzeck I’ve seen, in Richard Jones's Welsh National Opera baked-bean-factory production, and the...

Violet, Music Theatre Wales/Britten-Pears Arts...

David Nice

Best new opera in years, they said – don’t ask who – after the Aldeburgh Festival premiere of Tom Coult’s Violet. I’d have been happy in Hackney had...

Die tote Stadt, Longborough Festival review - Korngold on the way back

Stephen Walsh

Brilliant 1920 opera that might have shown the way forward

Otello, Grange Park Opera review - angels and demons

Boyd Tonkin

A charismatic Iago and radiant Desdemona anchor Verdi's tragedy

Eugene Onegin, Opera Holland Park Young Artists review - intimacy and reflection

Gavin Dixon

Fresh cast excels in Tchaikovsky’s tale of passion and honour

La bohème, Glyndebourne review - a masterpiece in monochrome

Miranda Heggie

Floris Visser's minimalist new production lets the richness of Puccini's work shine

Maria Stuarda, Irish National Opera review – two queens sing for the crown, with spectacular results

David Nice

Anna Devin and Tara Erraught excel as English Elizabeth and Scottish Mary

Tamerlano, The Grange Festival review - Handel brilliant in parts, but you have to wait for the drama

Stephen Walsh

Bravura singing but static production until the climax

The Excursions of Mr Brouček, Grange Park Opera review - biting satire from bouncing Czechs

Jessica Duchen

David Pountney brings zany fantasy to a rare staging of Janáček's weirdest work

Orfeo ed Euridice, Blackwater Valley Opera Festival review - heavenly possibilities, devils at work in the details

David Nice

Talented team of singers, players and dancers at the mercy of capricious circumstances

Così fan tutte, Garsington Opera review - gambling with the highest stakes

Peter Quantrill

Serious fun in a shrewd staging of this 'School for Lovers'

Parsifal, Opera North review - full focus and a dream line-up

Robert Beale

Bold touches and thrilling high points in Wagner’s 'stage consecration festival play'

Siegfried, Longborough Festival review - happily concept-free but with 'Good Ideas'

Stephen Walsh

Conductor Anthony Negus more than ever on top of strongly cast Wagner

Madama Butterfly, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - an opera masterclass

Robert Beale

Sir Mark Elder brings the Hallé season to its close with wizardry in Puccini

Samson et Dalila, Royal Opera review - from austerity to excess, with visual rigour and aural beauty

David Nice

Peerless mezzo and conductor, promising tenor at the heart of this hard-to-stage hybrid

Le nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne review - fabulous singing and a classy production

Miranda Heggie

Superb music making against the backdrop of a sumptuous Sevillian set

The Wreckers, Glyndebourne review - no masterpiece, but vividly sung and played

David Nice

Blowsy, intriguing grand opera by Ethel Smyth has full theatrical impact

'How that music was created remains to me a complete mystery': John Tomlinson on fellow Lancastrian Harrison Birtwistle

John Tomlinson

The great bass remembers the composer who wrote two roles with his voice in mind

Fidelio, Insula Orchestra, Barbican review - truth and justice brought to light

Boyd Tonkin

Sturdy singing and human drama enrich a fuss-free staging of Beethoven's only opera

Mavra/Pierrot Lunaire, Linbury Theatre review - operatic madness tempered with plenty of method

Alexandra Coghlan

A collision of musical worlds makes for an intriguing double-bill

Serse, The English Concert, St Martin-in-the-Fields review - star turns from five remarkable women

David Nice

Emily D’Angelo’s Xerxes is king, but doesn’t eclipse other greats in a Handel masterpiece

Lohengrin, Royal Opera review - a timely return to warzone Brabant

Gavin Dixon

Uneven casting for this first revival, but Jakub Hrůša shines at the podium

The Handmaid's Tale, English National Opera review - a red-hot classic for our times

Jessica Duchen

Overwhelming power in Annilese Miskimmon's new production of Poul Ruders's opera

Oberto, Chelsea Opera Group, Cadogan Hall review - Verdi’s first opera bounces into life

David Nice

Four strongly taken main roles and lively conducting make this a winner

The Gondoliers, Scottish Opera, Hackney Empire review - G&S con amore

David Nice

Sunniest of the Savoy masterpieces enjoys full measure from a stylish ensemble

Rigoletto, Opera North review - Covid shocks, debut pleasures

David Nice

Plague strikes the Duke of Mantua's court, but two young South Africans step up

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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