fri 08/12/2023

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Rodelinda, The English Concert, Bicket, Saffron Hall review - perfect team helps us stay the long Handel course

David Nice

If ever a marriage was made in heaven, it would have to be the one between Lucy Crowe’s beleaguered Queen Rodelinda and Iestyn Davies’ King Bertarido, the husband she believes dead and almost loses a second time. The duet at the end of Handel’s gem-packed Act Two where they’re reunited and then separated again was peerlessly moving as they performed it last night in Saffron Hall with the vibrant English Concert under Harry Bicket (more about the circumstances later).

Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni, Royal College of Music review - a modest one-acter overloaded

David Nice

Fascinating for the history of opera, less so for opera. The most interesting thing about Gazzaniga’s take on the libertine and the stone guest, apart from a couple of sprightly numbers, is the libretto by Bertati, repurposed with better dramatic shape by Da Ponte for Mozart, whose masterpiece opened in Prague eight months after the lesser work’s Venice premiere of February 1787. We have a right, though, to witness Gazzaniga’s unadulterated original. This wasn’t it.


Jephtha, Royal Opera review - uncomfortable...

David Nice

“Tell me,” The West Wing’s President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) asks of a right-wing TV host who uses the Bible to call homosexuality an abomination, “I’...

theartsdesk at Wexford Festival Opera - four...

David Nice

Imagine a Glyndebourne season where all those promising young singers in the chorus get to be principals in a series of fringe operas. At Wexford,...

theartsdesk in Ukraine - Stankovych's '...

Ed Vulliamy

Yevhen Stankovych is Ukraine’s most important living composer and – after decades of writing music that seems to grow from this country’s rich black...

Un ballo in maschera, Chelsea Opera Group, Cadogan Hall review - Italianate vitality, if not much finesse

David Nice

Broad brush strokes, but here was a world-class Verdi heroine in the making

La Rondine, Opera North review - rehabilitation for a Puccini damp squib?

Robert Beale

The romantic nostalgia of a world that vanished forever

Masque of Might, Opera North review - a tale of ecological virtue

Robert Beale

Pountney plunders Purcell to make the greenest show in a green season

Iolanthe, English National Opera review - still gorgeous but ever so slightly less funny than before

David Nice

Not all the cast changes are gains in revival of Cal McCrystal's funny and beautiful G&S

Faust, Irish National Opera review - world-class singing turns the musical-dramatic screw

David Nice

Fabulous principals and some good ideas to elevate Gounod's old-fashioned melodrama

Falstaff, Opera North review - going green and having fun

Robert Beale

Verdi’s comic masterpiece with a retro feel of its own

First Person: Director Sir David Pountney on creating a new 'Masque of Might' from the music of Purcell

Sir David Pountney

Launching Opera North’s Green Season with a climate sceptic as villain

La Traviata, Welsh National Opera review - memorable revival, unforgettable lead

Stephen Walsh

Stacey Alleaume has an astonishing feeling for the stage, her Violetta one in a thousand

Peter Grimes, English National Opera review - not quite the pity or the truth

David Nice

Strong sounds, but the tension sometimes flags in this hit-and-miss revival

The Yellow Wallpaper, Lilian Baylis Studio review - a tense and intimate monodrama

Bernard Hughes

New opera re-works classic short story with committed performances and striking staging

Das Rheingold, Royal Opera - knotty, riveting route to destruction

David Nice

Barrie Kosky and Antonio Pappano work superbly with a true team of singer-actors

First Person: mezzo Stephanie Wake-Edwards on open dialogue and shared goals in the new show 'FEAST'

Stephanie Wake-Edwards

On class, identity and the joy of true collaboration

Ainadamar, Welsh National Opera review - hits hard without breaking ground

Stephen Walsh

Pungent musical and visual imagery that sometimes wears thin

Prom 64: Les Troyens, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, Sousa review - ravishing interpretation of Berlioz's masterpiece

Rachel Halliburton

A stunning reminder of how relevant the opera’s themes remain today

Tannhäuser, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Edinburgh International Festival 2023 - compelling concert Wagner

Christopher Lambton

Donald Runnicles returns to Scotland with his top German company

Prom 43: Endgame, BBC Scottish SO, Ryan Wigglesworth review - beautiful sounds but slow, slow drama

Bernard Hughes

Astonishing orchestration and brilliant singing can’t overcome the snail’s pacing

Prom 31: Dialogues des Carmélites, Glyndebourne, BBC Radio 3 review - full force on air

David Nice

The atmospheric essence of this operatic triumph comes across without the visuals

The Pilgrim's Progress, Three Choirs Festival review - revelatory performance by young musicians

Stephen Walsh

Vaughan Williams opera that continues to echo in the mind

Semele, Glyndebourne review - the dark side of desire

Boyd Tonkin

A sturdy, thoughtful but downbeat take on Handel's hybrid masterpiece

The Magic Flute, Clonter Opera review - inventive ideas on the farm

Robert Beale

Cheshire platform for emerging talent comes up with the goods again

L'Orfeo, Longborough Festival Opera review - landmark opera survives rock-star wedding and hospital soap

Boyd Tonkin

A strongly-sung descent into the underworld overcomes hit-and-miss stagecraft

theartsdesk at the Buxton International Festival - bel canto in the High Peak

Robert Beale

Re-thought story in Bellini comedy is the festival highspot

The Bartered Bride, Garsington Opera review - brilliant revival of a comedy of cruelty

Stephen Walsh

Idiomatic singing and playing in an opera of deceptive profundity

Don Carlo, Royal Opera review - Lise Davidsen soars above routine

David Nice

Fine voices aren't quite enough in Verdi's epic royal tragedy

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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