wed 27/01/2021

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Romances on British Poetry / The Poet's Echo, English Touring Opera online review - Britten and Shostakovich in a double mirror

Richard Bratby

A darkened stage; a pool of light; a solitary figure. And then, flooding the whole thing with meaning, music – even it’s just a soft chord on a piano. It’s no secret to any opera goer that even the barest outlines of a staging can magnify the dramatic potential of a piece of music to a point when it can seem like a completely new work.

Best of 2020: Opera

David Nice

Surreal fantasy came off best this year, before and after the fall.


Royal Opera Christmas Concert online review –...

David Nice

So Hansel and Gretel can’t cuddle up together in the dark forest, Musetta doesn’t fall into long-suffering lover Marcello’s arms and there’s no...

Pagliacci, Opera Ensemble, Longborough review -...

Stephen Walsh

List all the problems that the pandemic places in the way of operatic performance, and you might well end up wondering why anyone would bother. Opera...

Così fan tutte, Scottish Opera online review -...

Christopher Lambton

For its latest production, unveiled on Sunday evening but recorded in November, Scottish Opera toys playfully with the absurdities of Covid-compliant...

First Person(s): soprano Susan Bullock and baritone William Dazeley on filming Britten’s Owen Wingrave

Susan Bullock And William Dazeley

Grange Park Opera makes the most of Covid restrictions by producing a TV opera

L'enfant et les sortilèges, VOPERA, LPO, Reynolds online – Ravel and Colette reimagined

David Nice

Through the laptop screen and what the child found there, in a brilliant take on a classic

The Seven Deadly Sins, Opera North online review - viscerally thrilling

Jenny Gilbert

Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's indictment of capitalism in a vibrant new production

Ariodante, Royal Opera online review – stylish, but confined

David Nice

Accomplished ensemble tries its best to cross the footlights in livestream-only Handel

‘Our whole industry is supported by vulnerable freelance creators': Chen Reiss on the artist in a time of Coronavirus

Chen Reiss

The soprano, now on screen in the Royal Opera 'Ariodante', on recognition for performers

Bluebeard's Castle, LSO, Rattle, LSO St Luke's online review - slow-burning magnificence

Graham Rickson

Perfectly cast, perfectly played concert performance of Bartók’s early masterpiece

The Magic Flute, Glyndebourne review - deeply moving light in darkness

David Nice

Ninety minute concert staging showcases superb young singers

Meet the Young Artists Week recital, Linbury Theatre – four big personalities

David Nice

Frissons and high drama from Royal Opera acolytes in song

4/4, Royal Opera review – desire, loss and lunacy in four surprising acts

David Nice

Allan Clayton and Richard Jones are kings of bedlam, but the rest has high style too

First Person: tenor Nicky Spence on working with Blackheath locals on screen Stravinsky

Nicky Spence

'The Rake's Progress' distilled and introduced by its star and community opera patron

Fidelio, Garsington Opera review - heart of darkness, light-filled liberation

David Nice

Fine singers equalled by Philharmonia soloists in revelatory chamber-music Beethoven

Eavesdropping on Rattle, the LSO and Bartók’s Bluebeard

David Nice

Ahead of the London Symphony Orchestra’s streaming next month, a privileged preview

La bohème, Scottish Opera – pandemic Puccini

Christopher Lambton

Top-quality cast and players put on a potted version in a parking lot

The Royal Opera: Live in Concert review - Italianate fizz with a patch of flatness

David Nice

A glorious orchestra and chorus under their inspiring music director are back in style

Sāvitri, Lauderdale House review - death and life in a Highgate garden

David Nice

Hampstead Garden Opera works a little miracle with Holst's mystical music-drama

The Encore, Opera Holland Park review - stylish return for a squad of old friends

Boyd Tonkin

A moving and delightful al fresco feast of opera favourites

Heart's Delight, Opera Holland Park review - a classy hour of operetta pops

David Nice

Five fine singers and a small orchestra deliver hits at a high level

Moses und Aron, Komische Oper Berlin, OperaVision review – complex and powerful memorial

Gavin Dixon

Schoenberg’s opera of unanswerable questions proves a fitting Holocaust epitaph

Elektra, Salzburg Festival, Arte review - distancing, but not in the physical sense

David Nice

Cold, analytical Strauss from Franz Welser-Möst and an odd array of performing styles

First Person: Antonia Bain on directing a short kitchen opera for film

Antonia Bain

Scottish Opera's digital content producer on making 'The Narcissistic Fish'

Classical music/Opera direct to home 19 – and two before a live audience

David Nice

Finally, you can be in the room, or space, where it happens in two east London venues

The Opera Story: Episodes review - whimsical takes on lockdown life

Bernard Hughes

Young London company offers snapshots of contemporary living

Classical music/Opera direct to home 17 - festive inventions

David Nice

Celebrating a maverick conductor, two great artists in recital and home-grown ingenuity

Don Giovanni/Sibelius plus, Swedish RSO, Harding, livestream review - dark studio rituals

David Nice

Vivid Mozart style from top cast and conductor, but concepts work only fitfully

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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