sat 19/01/2019

Opera reviews, news and interviews

'Bringing things to life is what opera is all about': Robert Howarth on a 'Magic Flute' with a difference

Robert Howarth

I’m here in Leeds at the end of five weeks of quite intense rehearsals for Opera North's new production of Mozart's The Magic Flute.

The Queen of Spades, Royal Opera review - uneven cast prey to overthought concept

David Nice

Prince Yeletsky, one of the shortest roles for a principal baritone in opera but with the loveliest of arias, looms large in Stefan Herheim's concept of The Queen of Spades.


Best of 2018: Opera

David Nice

Outnumbered by four to one: out of the classical/opera team, Alexandra Coghlan, Jessica Duchen, David Benedict and Boyd Tonkin all chose English...

Hänsel und Gretel, Royal Opera review - not quite...

David Nice

Once upon a time there was the terrible mouth of Richard Jones's Welsh National Opera/Met Hänsel und Gretel, finding an idiosyncratic equivalent to...

Gianni Schicchi/Suor Angelica, RNCM, Manchester...

Robert Beale

The Royal Northern College of Music’s December opera production was the useful double bill of Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi from Puccini’s...

Candide, LSO, Alsop, Barbican review - nearly the best of all possible...

Jessica Duchen

Bernstein centenary reaches a smashing conclusion with a flawed masterpiece

theartsdesk in Brno: Czech 100th feted through Janáček and Smetana

David Nice

Rarities in a festival featuring an entire operatic canon, plus heartfelt celebrations

'I’ve told everyone that it’s a comedy – but will anyone laugh?' Jonathan Dove on his new Marx opera

Jonathan Dove

Top British composer awaits Bonn premiere of his new work about a German in London

L'heure espagnole, Mid Wales Opera review - Ravel goes like clockwork

Richard Bratby

Ravel's clock shop farce ticks along delightfullyr in a small production big on character

theartsdesk in Gothenburg - Wagner's gold turns green

Boyd Tonkin

Stephen Langridge talks about his eco-friendly Swedish 'Ring'

War Requiem, English National Opera review - a striking spectacle, but oddly unmoving

Alexandra Coghlan

A sober and dignified production fails to add value to Britten's score

Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera review - a timely revival of Verdi's political music-drama

Alexandra Coghlan

Moshinsky's classic production still serves up the visual goods

The Silver Tassie, BBCSO, Barbican review - a bracing memorial for the WW1 anniversary

Alexandra Coghlan

An exceptional concert performance brings Turnage's opera back to blistering life

The Rake's Progress, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - supreme fluency from Eden to Bedlam

David Nice

Toby Spence captures every facet of Tom Rakewell in perfectly detailed Stravinsky

Serse, Fagioli, Il Pomo d'Oro, Barbican review - a night in counter-tenor heaven

Boyd Tonkin

Daredevil artistry brings Handel's tragi-comedy to life

Car, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Tognetti, Milton Court review - a rattlebag of happy collaborations

David Nice

The ACO welcomes compatriot soprano and joins with young Guildhall players

Verdi's Requiem, Royal Opera, Pappano review - all that heaven allows

David Nice

Incandescence from soloists, chorus, orchestra and conductor in a near-perfect ritual

Juliana, Nova Music Opera, St John's Smith Square review - new version of a classic drama

Bernard Hughes

Strindberg recast in the modern day is a showcase for young singing talent

Cendrillon, Glyndebourne Tour review - too many ingredients in the magic soup

David Nice

Young singers risk getting lost in the clutter of Fiona Shaw's over-loaded production

theartsdesk in Stockholm: the Birgit Nilsson Prize unites two great Wagnerian sopranos

David Nice

Nina Stemme does honour to her compatriot, who would have been 100 this year

Porgy and Bess, English National Opera review - strength in depth on Catfish Row

Boyd Tonkin

A heroic cast steers Gershwin's masterpiece home in style

Solomon, Royal Opera review - an awkward compromise of a performance

Alexandra Coghlan

Handel's oratorio given a handsome but frustrating account

Opolais, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Nelsons, RFH review - splendid and awful stretches

David Nice

New work excepted, this second Southbank concert from Germans and Latvians shone

Radamisto, English Touring Opera review - propulsive, lively Handel

Gavin Dixon

More atmosphere than drama in a modest but effective staging of Handel’s early opera

BBC Philharmonic, Wellber, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - new conductor’s debut

Robert Beale

Harbinger of things to come – the spirit of the stage

Montserrat Caballé (1933-2018): from Bellini to 'Barcelona'

David Nice

Glimpses of the Spanish soprano who could float a line like no other

Dido and Aeneas, Academy of Ancient Music, Barbican review – prosthetic passions

Boyd Tonkin

Puppetry, Handspring-style, helps give new life to Purcell's tragedy

Götterdämmerung, Royal Opera review - a fiery finale to this ambiguous cycle

Alexandra Coghlan

A strong cast welcomes doubts and possibilities in this closing episode of Wagner's epic

Siegfried, Royal Opera review - a truly fearless hero

David Nice

Stefan Vinke and Nina Stemme bring epic poetry to an often prosaic Ring

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.

Close Footnote

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Bang on a Can All-Stars, Kings Place review - a kaleidoscope...

Julia Wolfe, Caroline Shaw, Anna Þorvaldsdóttir: three names on quite a list I reeled off earlier this week when someone asked me why...

theartsdesk Q&A: Hedvig Mollestad, Norway's bridge...

Norway’s Hedvig Mollestad Trio reset the dial to what...

CD: The Dandy Warhols - Why You So Crazy

Why You So Crazy is a woozy, disorientating and spaced-out affair with a similar understated production to the Dandy Warhols last album,...

American History's Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley, BBC...

The multi-costumed Lucy Worsley is television marmite, loved or loathed...

Murrihy, Britten Sinfonia, Elder, Barbican review – a countr...

As the January chill began to bite around the Barbican, Sir...

Beautiful Boy review - well-acted but a slog

The tortuous road to addiction and back again – or maybe not  makes for a faintly tedious experience in...

The Unreturning, Theatre Royal Stratford East review - hymn...

Nadia Fall is a good thing. Her appointment as the artistic director of this venue, with her first season having begun in September last year, has...

'Bringing things to life is what opera is all about...

I’m here in Leeds at the end of five weeks of quite intense rehearsals for...