mon 17/06/2019

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Franco Zeffirelli: 'I had this feeling that I was special'

Jasper Rees

"I am amazed to be still alive. Two hours of medieval torment.” Franco Zeffirelli - who has died at the age of 96 - had spent the day having a lumbar injection to treat a sciatic nerve. You could hear the bafflement in his heavily accented English.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Nevill Holt Opera review - sprinkled with musical fairy-dust

Alexandra Coghlan

“For I have found Demetrius like a jewel. Mine own, and not mine own.” Mine own and not mine own. This idea of transfiguration, of things familiar but somehow altered – is the spark that animates both Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Britten’s adaptation. Uncanny, Freud would have called it. There may be magic and naughty sprites, laughter and happy endings, but this is no fairy story.


Porgy and Bess, Grange Park Opera review - good...

Jessica Duchen

If you go to a British country house opera to see a work about an addict and a cripple in a poverty-stricken Deep South tenement, you know the...

Un ballo in maschera, Opera Holland Park review...

Alexandra Coghlan

A masked ball is a time of play and role-play, celebrating the duality, the conflicting selves within us all, allowing us to set aside our everyday...

Cendrillon, Glyndebourne Festival review - busy...

Gavin Dixon

Cendrillon is Jules Massenet’s operatic version of Cinderella, based on the Charles Perrault story of 1698. It is a fairly faithful to the story we...

Falstaff, The Grange Festival review - belly laughs and bags of fun

Alexandra Coghlan

Brimful of delights, this new production is one of the Grange Festival's finest to date

Le Nozze di Figaro, The Grange Festival review – the dark side of power

Boyd Tonkin

A well-sung Figaro wrenches redemption from destructive desire

The Diary of One who Disappeared, ROH review – song cycle-as-opera is a mish-mash

Bernard Hughes

Padding out Janáček’s work with extraneous material merely diffuses the music’s power

Das Rheingold, Longborough Festival Opera review - more Wagnerian excellence in a Gloucestershire barn

Stephen Walsh

Minor teething troubles but no reduced impact for Negus's new Cotswold Ring

Manon Lescaut, Opera Holland Park review - attempt to empower commodified woman falls flat

David Nice

Star quality from Elizabeth Llewellyn doesn't quite lift this dramatically inert evening

The Bartered Bride, Garsington Opera review – musical glories, dramatic questions

Sebastian Scotney

Setting high operatic standards for Smetana in the idyllic Chilterns

Bauci e Filemone/Orfeo, Classical Opera, QEH review - a star Orpheus is born

David Nice

Mezzo Lena Belkina and two others shine, but all is not well in Gluck's mythological world

Agrippina, Barbican review - over-the-top comic brilliance

Alexandra Coghlan

Handel's Roman comedy gets a bit Carry On Up The Capitol

Donnerstag aus Licht, Pascal, RFH review – indulgent genius at work

Peter Quantrill

Me, myself and I on stage: the trinity of Stockhausen, Michael and Jesus

First Person: Conductor Maxime Pascal on Stockhausen at the Southbank Centre

Maxime Pascal

The man in control of a cosmic opera tonight on its visionary German composer

La Damnation de Faust, Glyndebourne review – bleak and compelling makeover

Peter Quantrill

Berlioz's Romantic Everyman seen in a sobering light

Phaedra, Linbury Theatre review - from confusing passion to blazing afterlife

David Nice

Henze's near-death experience gives this skewed mythology extraordinary life

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An eclectic line-up spanning music, theatre, dance, visual art, film, comedy, literature and spoken word could be yours with boutique hotel and exquisite meals included

Semele, Monteverdi Choir, EBS, Gardiner, Alexandra Palace review - Handel's cornucopia lavishly served

David Nice

No 'secular oratorio' in these hands, but an ultimately electrifying opera

Aida, Opera North review - militarism soundly subverted

Robert Beale

Annabel Arden’s vision and Richard Armstrong’s conducting make a powerful mix

'The orchestra becomes the landscape': Annabel Arden on Opera North's concert staging of Aida

Annabel Arden

The director on Verdi's late masterpiece in a war-torn contemporary setting

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

David Nice

Peerless protagonist among a crew sometimes lost on an infinite stage

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

David Nice

Compelling fantasia about black South Africans drowned in a World War One disaster

Faust, Royal Opera review - fusty Gounod still dances

David Nice

Lively conducting and a last-minute replacement keep this hellish cabaret on its toes

Franco Fagioli, Il Pomo d’Oro, Birmingham Town Hall review - flair and flamboyance

Miranda Heggie

Virtuoso countertenor shines in music from Handel and his contemporaries

The Pilgrim’s Progress, RNCM, Manchester review – a theatrical triumph

Robert Beale

Re-imagining Bunyan’s story as a parable of the First World War

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

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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