fri 23/08/2019

Opera reviews, news and interviews

Edinburgh International Festival 2019: Bach's Multiple Concertos/ Manon Lescaut reviews - dancing harpsichords, perfect Puccini

David Nice

Puccini's and Abbé Prévost's glitter-seduced Manon Lescaut might have been inclined to linger longer in the salon of dirty old man Geronte if he'd served her up not his own madrigals but Bach's music for various harpsichords and ensemble.

Edinburgh International Festival 2019: Breaking the Waves, Scottish Opera/Opera Ventures review - great film makes a dodgy opera

David Nice

Love him or hate him, Lars von Trier has time and again made the unpalatable and the improbable real and shatteringly moving in a succession of great films. Breaking the Waves set an audacious precedent. Baldly told, it's a story of a mentally ill, deeply loving woman at odds with her Hebridean community who thinks she can save her paralysed husband by having sex with strangers and describing the acts to him.


Making new waves: Royce Vavrek on forging a...

Royce Vavrek

It was during the 1997 Golden Globe Awards telecast that I first caught a glimpse of the film that would change my life completely. Midway through...

Edinburgh International Festival 2019: Eugene...

Miranda Heggie

Returning to Edinburgh International Festival, Berlin's Komische Oper brought Barrie Kosky’s sumptuous production of Eugene Onegin to the Edinburgh...

Rinaldo, Glyndebourne Festival review - teenage...

Miranda Heggie

If you’d started senior school when this production premiered, you’d be finished by now and out in the world of work or at university, your first...

theartsdesk Q&A: composer Alastair White on his new opera ROBE

Miranda Heggie

Emerging Scottish talent describes creating layers of reality in his latest work

The Gondoliers, National Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company review - charm where it matters

Richard Bratby

A budget trip to Venice, in the liveliest of company

theartsdesk in Dalarna: Rhinegold in a Swedish barn by a lake

David Nice

Intimate Wagner works a treat with a uniformly world-class cast and a 32-piece orchestra

L'Arlesiana, Opera Holland Park review - at last, a rare Italian gem

David Nice

Empathetic performances and conducting help Cilea's pastoral tragedy to soar

War and Peace, Welsh National Opera, Royal Opera House - bold epic weakened by loosely-directed characterisations

David Nice

Strong singing and conducting, but Prokofiev's psychological acuity is ill served

Il Segreto di Susanna/Iolanta, Opera Holland Park review - superb singing, mixed staging

Alexandra Coghlan

A fine double-bill marred by its mismatched halves

Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne Festival review – high jinks in the Grand Mozart Hotel

Boyd Tonkin

Some delicious singing cuts through fanciful upstairs-downstairs frolics

Pavarotti review - enjoyable but superficial survey of a superstar

Adam Sweeting

Ron Howard's portrait of the fabled tenor leaves his inner life unexamined

Pick of the BBC Proms 2019


Our classical music/opera reviewers choose their favourites from the next eight weeks

Don Giovanni, Longborough Festival Opera review - Mozart in the urinal

Stephen Walsh

Coarsened, disembowelled and only quite well sung

Eugene Onegin/Georgiana, Buxton Festival review - poetry and pantomime

Richard Bratby

Thought provoking Tchaikovsky meets the operatic equivalent of Frankenstein's Monster

La Fille du Régiment, Royal Opera review - enjoyable but questionable revival

Gavin Dixon

Tenor Javier Camarena excels in an otherwise only serviceable account

'A product not only of his era but also of his travels': Ian Page on Mozart's cosmopolitan education

Ian Page

The Mozartists' main man on how an early life moving around Europe shaped a genius

The Turn of the Screw, Garsington Opera review - superb music drama on an open stage

Stephen Walsh

Britten's problematic ghost opera allowed to triumph by way of the music

Noye's Fludde, ENO/Theatre Royal Stratford East review - two-dimensional music theatre

David Nice

Kudos to all the performers, but the audience doesn't get Britten's whole story

Rusalka, Glyndebourne Festival review - away with the distressed fairies

Stephen Walsh

Dvořák's late masterpiece richly revealed without the airy-fairy

Trouble in Tahiti/A Dinner Engagement, Royal College of Music review - slick, witty and warm

Alexandra Coghlan

Two 1950s one-acters come together in a stylish double-act

The Cunning Little Vixen, Rattle, LSO, Barbican review – dark magic in the woods

Boyd Tonkin

Janáček's evergreen fable enchants and disturbs

BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2019 Final, BBC Four review - stage confidence, supportive set-up

David Nice

Invidious to choose between different voices, but Andrei Kymach is a worthy winner

Brundibár, Welsh National Opera review - bittersweet children's opera from the ghetto

Stephen Walsh

Theresienstadt operetta brilliantly sung, wittily staged

Belshazzar, The Grange Festival review – songs of freedom

Boyd Tonkin

A star choir shines in Handel's tale of luxury brought low

Anna Bolena, Longborough Festival Opera review - Henry VIII's court becomes a sexualised death cult

Richard Bratby

The Gloucestershire Bayreuth delivers a bel canto thriller

Boris Godunov, Royal Opera review - cool and surgical, with periodic chills

David Nice

The conscience of Bryn Terfel's tsar-king's the focused thing in this immaculate revival

Hansel and Gretel, ENO, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - into the broomstick woods

David Nice

Enchanting chamber-musical score, fine balance between fairytale and horror story

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.

Close Footnote

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Edinburgh International Festival 2019: Bach's Multiple...

Puccini's and Abbé Prévost's glitter-seduced...

Prom 46: Kanneh-Mason, CBSO, Gražinytė-Tyla review - brillia...

Let us never tire of singing the praises of the Proms, nor ever take them for granted. For two...

CD: Tanya Tucker - While I'm Livin'

When Johnny Cash and Rick Rubin released the former’s stripped back, soul-bearing American Recordings in 1994 the impact was massive. Not...

Edinburgh International Festival 2019: Breaking the Waves, S...

Love him or hate him, Lars von Trier has time and again made the unpalatable and the improbable real and shatteringly moving in a succession of...

Bauhaus 100, BBC Four review - a well-made film about the ma...

The Bauhaus school and its subsequent influence make an extraordinary story, and this...

Eels, Hammersmith Apollo review – dark, swampy and endlessly...

"Would you mind if I jammed on my new... castanets?" We’re halfway through Eels’ triumphant set at Hammersmith's...

CD: Sleater-Kinney - The Center Won't Hold

This album’s title began as a reaction to fractiousness under...

Heartbreak Holiday, BBC One review - can it match up to Love...

The BBC’s version of Love Island has familiar ingredients:...