tue 26/10/2021

Opera reviews, news and interviews

The Rake's Progress, Glyndebourne Tour - a classic revitalized

David Nice

Tom Rakewell Esquire, the Glyndebourne edition generally known as “the Hockney Rake” though it is very much director John Cox’s too, is 46 years old.

Die ägyptische Helena, Fulham Opera review - mythological mess impressively handled

David Nice

So Helen of Troy arrives at a church in Fulham via Poseidon’s island palace and a pavilion at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.


Bernstein Double Bill, Opera North review -...

Graham Rickson

Leonard Bernstein’s one-act opera Trouble in Tahiti enjoyed a relatively trouble-free gestation, at least compared to his other stage works. Its...

Don Pasquale, Glyndebourne Tour review - winning...

Boyd Tonkin

If it ain’t broke… on tour and in the Glyndebourne summer festival, Mariame Clément's production of Don Pasquale has gratified audiences for a decade...

First Person: director Frederic Wake-Walker on...

Frederic Wake-Walker

2016Dear Diary, I’ve just had a meeting with Glyndebourne about directing a new production of Fidelio. I realise it’s one of the hardest operas in...

Jenůfa, Royal Opera review - Janáček scours the soul again in a compelling new take

David Nice

Equality of greatness from Asmik Grigorian and Karita Mattila in a striking context

Madam Butterfly, Welsh National Opera review - decent performance, disagreeable context

Stephen Walsh

Puccini's Japan as paradigm of nastinesses in a dystopic postmodern biosphere

The Midsummer Marriage, LPO, Gardner, RFH review – Tippett’s cornucopia shines in fits and starts

David Nice

The central act is pure genius, but undramatic flaws glare in a naked concert performance

'Rest now, you God': remembering bass-baritone Norman Bailey (1933-2021)


Greatest of Wagnerians remembered by four fellow-singers and two conductors

The Magic Flute, Royal Opera review - all but a guarantee of a great night out

Alexandra Coghlan

Opera's classiest pantomime looks better than ever in this handsome revival

Rigoletto, Royal Opera review - routine clouds the best in this season opener

David Nice

Orchestra and chorus pass with flying colours, but tradition weighs heavy elsewhere

Summer seasons in a Covid world: five opera company movers and shakers reflect


The admins are the heroes now: how festivals surmounted all obstacles

The Barber of Seville, Welsh National Opera review - back to work in an old banger

Stephen Walsh

Some excellent singing struggling with a weary production and an unhelpful translation

Tristan und Isolde, Glyndebourne, BBC Proms review - endless love, perfect pace

David Nice

Robin Ticciati conducts his first Wagner opera, and it's a revelation

Ariadne auf Naxos, Edinburgh International Festival review – apt setting for Strauss hybrid

Douglas McDonald

Starry cast and glittering orchestra charm on a chilly evening

theartsdesk at the Birgit Nilsson Days - the rich legacy of a farm girl turned diva

David Nice

The greatest of sopranos who never forgot her roots lives on in her successors

Remembering Graham Vick (1953-2021) - top colleagues on one of the greatest opera directors


Five singers, a conductor and a casting director recall an irreplaceable visionary

A Night at the Opera, BBC Philharmonic, Glassberg, BBC Proms review - six of the best

Jessica Duchen

Operatic plums plus, possibly over-curated but gorgeously sung

Hansel and Gretel, British Youth Opera review - chaotic rewrite of a classic opera misses the mark

Alexandra Coghlan

Trading fantasy for banal reality, this fairytale forgets to bring the emotion

RhineGold, Birmingham Opera Company, Symphony Hall review - music-drama at the highest level

David Nice

Magnificent cast of singer-actors and full orchestra honour the late Graham Vick’s vision

Luisa Miller, Glyndebourne review – small-scale tragedy, big emotions

David Nice

Bold casting includes a sensational main-season debut from soprano Mané Galoyan

The Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival Opera review - life, death and the menopause in the forest

Stephen Walsh

Janáček's strip cartoon engagingly directed and sung, orchestrally problematic

First Person: conductor Enrique Mazzola on Verdi's time-travelling 'Luisa Miller'

Enrique Mazzola

Notes from the musician who knows Glyndebourne's last main-season production best

Opera in Song, Opera Holland Park review – world-class singers in a brilliant recital triptych

David Nice

Baritone Julien Van Mellaerts and pianist Dylan Perez programme a winning mini-festival

Le Comte Ory, Garsington Opera review - high musical style and broad dramatic comedy

David Nice

Rossini can take the high jinks of Cal McCrystal in a deliciously cast romp

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance, Royal Opera review – breathtaking young talent

David Nice

Nine superb voices, with varying degrees of polish, in four operatic scenes

Il ritorno d'Ulisse, Longborough Festival Opera review - gods and grunge on the long journey home

Richard Bratby

Monteverdi in the round - a grungy, messy, very human Odyssey

L'amico Fritz, Opera Holland Park review - slow-burning love, Italian style

David Nice

Conductor Beatrice Venezi and tenor Matteo Lippi kindle a Mascagni rarity

The Barber of Seville, Clonter Opera Theatre review - youthful enthusiasm triumphs

Robert Beale

Cheshire opera farm proves its resourcefulness again

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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