fri 22/02/2019

Opera reviews, news and interviews

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

Graham Rickson

Stravinsky acknowledged that his orchestra for The Rite of Spring was a large one because Diaghilev had promised him extra musicians (“I am not sure that my orchestra would have been as huge otherwise.”) It isn’t huge in Opera North’s production (★★★★★), and for practical reasons they're using the edition arranged by Jonathan McPhee in 1988 for a standard pit band.

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

Stephen Walsh

I last saw this Magic Flute, directed by Dominic Cooke, when it was new, some 14 years ago, and I remember it mainly, I’m afraid, for its lack of visual charm.


Brighton Festival 2019 launches with Guest...

Thomas H Green

The striking cover for the Brighton Festival 2019 programme shouts out loud who this year’s Guest Director is. Silhouetted in flowers, in stunning...

Akhnaten, English National Opera review - still a...

Alexandra Coghlan

You start off fighting it. Those arpeggios, the insistent reduction, simplification, repetition, the amplification of the smallest gesture into an...

Un ballo in maschera, Welsh National Opera review...

Stephen Walsh

Why is Un Ballo in maschera not as popular as the trio of Verdi masterpieces – Rigoletto, Traviata, Trovatore – that, with a couple of digressions,...

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

Best of 2018: Opera

David Nice

A year more remarkable for high musical values than any wealth of great UK productions

Hänsel und Gretel, Royal Opera review - not quite hungry enough

David Nice

Three top voices and vivacious conducting aren't enough to set fairytale juices flowing

Gianni Schicchi/Suor Angelica, RNCM, Manchester review – music does the magic

Robert Beale

A new and impressive approach to college opera performance

Candide, LSO, Alsop, Barbican review - nearly the best of all possible...

Jessica Duchen

Bernstein centenary reaches a smashing conclusion with a flawed masterpiece

theartsdesk in Brno: Czech 100th feted through Janáček and Smetana

David Nice

Rarities in a festival featuring an entire operatic canon, plus heartfelt celebrations

'I’ve told everyone that it’s a comedy – but will anyone laugh?' Jonathan Dove on his new Marx opera

Jonathan Dove

Top British composer awaits Bonn premiere of his new work about a German in London

L'heure espagnole, Mid Wales Opera review - Ravel goes like clockwork

Richard Bratby

Ravel's clock shop farce ticks along delightfullyr in a small production big on character

theartsdesk in Gothenburg - Wagner's gold turns green

Boyd Tonkin

Stephen Langridge talks about his eco-friendly Swedish 'Ring'

War Requiem, English National Opera review - a striking spectacle, but oddly unmoving

Alexandra Coghlan

A sober and dignified production fails to add value to Britten's score

Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera review - a timely revival of Verdi's political music-drama

Alexandra Coghlan

Moshinsky's classic production still serves up the visual goods

The Silver Tassie, BBCSO, Barbican review - a bracing memorial for the WW1 anniversary

Alexandra Coghlan

An exceptional concert performance brings Turnage's opera back to blistering life

The Rake's Progress, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - supreme fluency from Eden to Bedlam

David Nice

Toby Spence captures every facet of Tom Rakewell in perfectly detailed Stravinsky

Serse, Fagioli, Il Pomo d'Oro, Barbican review - a night in counter-tenor heaven

Boyd Tonkin

Daredevil artistry brings Handel's tragi-comedy to life

Car, Australian Chamber Orchestra, Tognetti, Milton Court review - a rattlebag of happy collaborations

David Nice

The ACO welcomes compatriot soprano and joins with young Guildhall players

Verdi's Requiem, Royal Opera, Pappano review - all that heaven allows

David Nice

Incandescence from soloists, chorus, orchestra and conductor in a near-perfect ritual

Juliana, Nova Music Opera, St John's Smith Square review - new version of a classic drama

Bernard Hughes

Strindberg recast in the modern day is a showcase for young singing talent

Cendrillon, Glyndebourne Tour review - too many ingredients in the magic soup

David Nice

Young singers risk getting lost in the clutter of Fiona Shaw's over-loaded 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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