sun 22/04/2018

Opera reviews, news and interviews

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

David Nice

Opera on film's most magical offering, better by some way than Joseph Losey's cinematically tricksy Don Giovanni, at last makes it to Region 2 in this BFI dual-format release.

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

David Nice

Anyone who's seen Richard Jones's rigorous production before will remember the makeover – Katerina Izmailova, bored and brutalised housewife released by sex and murder from her shackles, having her drab bedroom expanded and redecorated in deliberate incongruity with Shostakovich's most shattering orchestral music – and its polar opposite, the near-black horror of convicts in trucks by the river on th


Bernstein's MASS, RFH review -...

David Nice

Live exposure to centenary composer Leonard Bernstein's anything-goes monsterpiece of 1971, as with Britten's War Requiem of the previous decade,...

Coraline, Royal Opera, Barbican review - spooky...

David Nice

With the eyes of musical fashion turned relentlessly on the calculating stage works of chilly alchemist George Benjamin, hopes ran high for a...

Soprano Ruby Hughes on Handel's last prima...

Ruby Hughes

Who was Giulia Frasi? This is so often the response I get when I mention the name of this Italian singer who came to London and became Handel’s last...

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

Tosca, Welsh National Opera review - ticking the traditionalist boxes

Stephen Walsh

Pasteboard verismo done by the book with impressive results

Carmen, Royal Opera review - clever concept, patchy singing, sexy dancing

David Nice

No central chemistry, but Barrie Kosky serves up set pieces full of panache

La forza del destino, Welsh National Opera review - rambling drama, fine music

Stephen Walsh

Verdi's Russo-Spanish hotchpotch given the full treatment with mixed success

Orlando, La Nuova Musica, SJSS review - Handel painted in primary colours

Alexandra Coghlan

Comedy turned caricature in this rather heavy-handed performance

Having a Verdi ball: conductor Richard Farnes on Opera North's upcoming production

Richard Farnes

Hugely respected former Music Director on returning for 'Un ballo in maschera'

Das Rheingold, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - orchestral revelations, but cursing Alberich trumps wooden Wotan

David Nice

Clear but often aloof exposition of Wagner's 'preliminary evening' to the Ring

BBCSO, Pons, Barbican review - love hurts in vivid Spanish double bill

David Nice

Flamenco singer in Falla and dramatic mezzo as Granados's heroine cue vibrant passion

The Return of Ulysses, Royal Opera, Roundhouse review - musical drama trumps dodgy stagecraft

David Nice

Monteverdi magic from peerless performers, triumphing over a messy production

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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