thu 25/04/2019

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Billy Budd, Royal Opera review - Britten's drama of good and evil too much at sea

David Nice

On one level, it's about Biblically informed good and evil at sea, in both the literal and the metaphorical sense. On another, the love that dared not speak its name when Britten and E M Forster adapted Hermann Melville's novella is either repressed or (putatively) liberated. The conflicts can make for lacerating music theatre, as they did in Orpha Phelan's production for Opera North.

SS Mendi: Dancing the Death Drill, Isango Ensemble, Linbury Theatre - evocative and essential lyric theatre

David Nice

While Bach's and Handel's Passions have been driving thousands to contemplate suffering, mortality and grace, this elegy for black lives lost over a century ago also chimes movingly with pre-Easter offerings.


Faust, Royal Opera review - fusty Gounod still...

David Nice

Goethe's cosmic Faust becomes Gounod's operatic fust in what, somewhat surprisingly, remains a repertoire staple. You go for the tunes, hoping for...

Franco Fagioli, Il Pomo d’Oro, Birmingham Town...

Miranda Heggie

For the final, and only UK, date of his Vinci Arias tour, virtuoso countertenor Franco Fagioli gave an animated and arresting recital of baroque...

The Pilgrim’s Progress, RNCM, Manchester review...

Robert Beale

The Royal Northern College of Music’s spring opera is a theatrical triumph and musically very, very good. It’s 27 years since they last presented...

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel, English National Opera review - powerful ensemble, wrong subject

David Nice

Six strong sopranos and a still promising composer lost in a pointless labyrinth

Berenice, Royal Opera/London Handel Festival review - luminous shenanigans in the Linbury

David Nice

One fierce queen and a glorious Roman prince in a well-drilled ensemble

In the spirit of the composer as innovator: Samir Savant on the London Handel Festival

Samir Savant

The director presents a month of enterprising events

Elizabeth I/Macbeth, English Touring Opera review - elegance and eeriness

Richard Bratby

Heroism and horror in a pair of impressive ensemble performances

La forza del destino, Royal Opera review - generous voices, dramatic voids

David Nice

Generalised star turns from Kaufmann and Netrebko defuse Pappano's musical drama

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Birmingham Opera Company review - searing music-theatre for all

David Nice

Bloodied brides and rat-heads run amok in visceral ballroom Shostakovich

Idomeneo, English Touring Opera review – honest excellence

Boyd Tonkin

Strong singing and fuss-free direction do justice to Mozart's dark masterpiece

Robin Hood, The Opera Story, CLF Café review - folk hero re-imagined as Tory villain

Bernard Hughes

The plot is over-stuffed, but this new opera has some riveting moments

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Guildhall School review - earthy, energetic Britten

David Nice

An energetic cast of quality voices meshes happily with bracing instrumental magic

The Merry Widow, English National Opera review - glitter but no sparkle

Alexandra Coghlan

It's hard to know whether to mourn or celebrate this uneven production

Così fan tutte, Royal Opera review - fine singing and elegant deceits

Peter Quantrill

Metatheatrical devices turn the screw on Mozart’s not-so-funny comedy of manners

The Monstrous Child, Royal Opera, Linbury Theatre review - fresh operatic mythology for teenagers

Alexandra Coghlan

Move over Wagner, there's a new set of operatic gods in town

The Rite of Spring/Gianni Schicchi, Opera North review - unlikely but musically satisfying pairing

Graham Rickson

Odd-couple double bill of Stravinsky and Puccini with plenty to delight ear and eye

The Magic Flute, Welsh National Opera review - charming to hear, charmless to look at

Stephen Walsh

Mozart's pantomime about Nature and Reason stuck in a box

Brighton Festival 2019 launches with Guest Director Rokia Traoré

Thomas H Green

The south-coast's arts extravaganza reveals its 2019 line-up

Akhnaten, English National Opera review - still a mesmerising spectacle

Alexandra Coghlan

ENO's most successful contemporary opera ever makes a triumphant return

Un ballo in maschera, Welsh National Opera review - opera as brilliant self-parody

Stephen Walsh

Middle-period Verdi watchable, listenable and sometimes laughable

La Damnation de Faust, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - 'concert opera' indeed

Robert Beale

Vivid choral and orchestral sounds in a thrilling account of Berlioz masterpiece

Anthropocene, Hackney Empire review - vivid soundscapes but not quite enough thrills

Alexandra Coghlan

McRae's operatic eco-thriller gives the audience plenty to chew on

Katya Kabanova, Royal Opera review - inner torment incarnate

David Nice

Ruthless focus in production and central performance, not quite so much from the pit

Katya Kabanova, Opera North review – a grim tale

Robert Beale

High musical qualities in Janáček's tragedy of frustration and illicit love

Die Walküre, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - love shines out

David Nice

A fast-beating heart serves Wagner's second Ring opera well

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

Robert Howarth

Opera North's Mozart conductor on taking a careful look at a masterpiece

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

David Nice

Two stories painstakingly interwoven, but the dark heart of Tchaikovsky/Pushkin falters

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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