thu 08/12/2022

Opera reviews, news and interviews

An open letter from Dame Sarah Connolly and colleagues to Arts Council England

Sarah Connolly

The decision of Arts Council England to withdraw funding from the English National Opera and force it to move out of London is not only another hammer blow to the opera industry but it has huge ramifications for the extensive number of British freelance artists the company employs.

It’s a Wonderful Life, English National Opera review - Capra’s sharp-edged sentiment smothered in endless schmaltz

David Nice

Looking for a sparkly operatic musical, well sung and played, slick and saturated in a range of mainstream styles that stop short in the year the movie masterpiece It’s a Wonderful Life was released, 1946? Then Jake Heggie’s 2016 confection may be for you. One thing’s for sure, though: it may be trying to do something different from the Capra classic, and it’s welcome to have the Bailey family as African Americans, but this isn't a patch on the rather more layered film.


The Rake's Progress, Royal Academy of Music...

Alexandra Coghlan

Paris, Vienna, Rome – all have their operatic homages. But London (and I mean real London, not the slightly-grey Italy of Donizetti’s Tudor Queens)...

First Person: conductor Leo Hussain on why we...

Leo Hussain

I still remember vividly my first encounter with ENO. I was taken, as a nine-year-old boy, on a school trip to see a performance of Peter Grimes. And...

Alcina, Royal Opera review - sharp stage magic,...

David Nice

Handel’s audiences must have taken a very long time to settle – at least an act, to judge from the mostly inconsequential music of Alcina’s first...

The Yeomen of the Guard, English National Opera review - half-good shot at an unusual G&S misalliance

David Nice

Sullivan’s music is masterly, but director Jo Davies doesn’t solve Gilbert’s Tudorbethiana

Ainadamar, Scottish Opera/Opera Ventures review - worlds collide in fiery fusion

Miranda Heggie

Flamenco meets opera in this stirring and sensuous production of Golijov's Lorca fantasia

Britten Weekend, Snape review - diverse songs to mostly great poetry overshadow a problem opera

David Nice

Pianist Malcolm Martineau marshals 10 committed singers for the complete song cycles

Tamerlano, English Touring Opera review - the darker side of Handel

Boyd Tonkin

An outstanding take on a gorgeous but sinister work

Orfeo ed Euridice, Opera North review - more than a concert

Robert Beale

First night in the theatre for new take on Gluck's operatic myth has its own rewards

theartsdesk at Wexford Festival Opera - the bad, the good and the glorious

David Nice

From Shakespeare travesty via French charm to bewitching Dvořák and a great soprano

Orpheus, Opera North review - cross-cultural opera in action

Robert Beale

Monteverdi and South Asian classical tradition come together with enchanting success

First Persons: co-music directors Jasdeep Singh Degun and Laurence Cummings on their new Opera North 'Orpheus'

Jasdeep Singh Degun And Laurence Cummings

Premiering tonight in Leeds, a project that's so much more than lip-service to diversity

La bohème, Glyndebourne Tour review - Death and the Parisienne doing the rounds

David Nice

First-rate ensemble, thoughtful production and assured conducting in fresh Puccini

theartsdesk in Kyiv - defiant new operatic epic in an empty gallery

Kevin Sullivan

Plaintive affirmation of the human and the divine in the Khanenko Museum of Art

Only an Octave Apart, Wilton's Music Hall review - instant charm, infinite variety

David Nice

Justin Vivian Bond and Anthony Roth Costanzo in an absolutely fabulous double act

Tosca, English National Opera review - a tale of two eras

David Nice

Powerful singing and playing, but mixed historical periods mute the drama

Aida, Royal Opera review - dour but disciplined

David Nice

Uniformly good cast, idiomatic conducting, production rigidly consistent in khaki

The Makropulos Affair, Welsh National Opera review - complexity realised brilliantly on the stage

Stephen Walsh

Janáček’s collisions spark an evening of powerful conflict

La rondine, If Opera review - a bold opening gambit from a company changing the business of opera

Alexandra Coghlan

Puccini's tearjerker is served up fresh by a young cast

Saul, The English Concert, Butt, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - properly exciting music drama

Simon Thompson

Master Handelian directs a marvellously colourful performance with outstanding singers

Patience, Charles Court Opera, Wilton's Music Hall review - bar room bliss

David Nice

Perfect cast of nine delivers big laughs and fair share of vocal glamour

Sir John in Love, British Youth Opera review - a delicious end-of-summer treat

Alexandra Coghlan

A rare operatic staging marks Vaughan Williams' 150th anniversary

First Persons: Glyndebourne's sustainability advisers Sara and Jeremy Eppel on creating eco-friendly opera

Sara And Jeremy Eppel

This season's production of 'The Wreckers' leads the way towards net zero

First Person: Michael Volpe on the utopian thinking behind his new If Opera company

Michael Volpe

Bold aims for country-house opera with a difference

Salome, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Gardner, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - orchestral majesty triumphs

Christopher Lambton

Malin Byström offers presence and power as Strauss and Wilde's sex-crazed princess

La Voix humaine/Les Mamelles de Tirésias, Glyndebourne review - phantasmagorical wonders

David Nice

Visual and aural beauty, strong performances, in a stunning double-bill from Laurent Pelly

Rusalka, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - sumptuous rendition of a watery fable

Christopher Lambton

Total triumph for replacement water-nymph Elin Pritchard

theartsdesk at the Bayreuth Festival Ring 2022 - a jumbled mess of ideas, some of them compelling

Gavin Dixon

A Tarantino-style Ring cycle offers many inspired scenes, but little coherence or depth

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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