sun 05/07/2020

Opera Reviews

The Bartered Bride, BBCSO, Bělohlávek, Barbican Hall

David Nice

What a relief, for half of last night's semi-staged concert performance, to have left behind Britten's claustrophobic wood at English National Opera and to seek refuge in Smetana's Bohemian village inn of good cheer.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream, English National Opera

David Nice

Just think, said a veteran enthusiast of Britten's operas when I showed him the earliest publicity designs for Christopher Alden's production, you could set them all in a school, even Gloriana - what about headmistress Bess and head prefect Essex? But could you squidge everything into the one shape, I wondered?

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The Damnation of Faust, English National Opera

David Nice

Anything goes in the wacky world of Berlioz’s Faust story. It’s a heaven and hell of a lot better than Gounod’s, but it isn’t an opera, it isn’t an oratorio and it certainly isn’t the gospel according to Goethe. So Terry Gilliam, ENO’s latest wild-card debut director, was right not to play by all of the composer’s already rather warped rules. At first you sigh: not the Nazis and the Holocaust again.

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Werther, Royal Opera

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

We all knew about the throat problems and the vocal-cord-threatening surgery. But Rolando Villazón's post-operation return to the Royal Opera House last night appeared to reveal heart issues too. At least that was the only way I could explain the endless arm-swinging and chest-clutching. Twenty, perhaps 30, times he clutched and swung. Surely this wasn't Villazón's attempt to characterise Werther's heartache, was it?

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From the House of the Dead, Opera North

graham Rickson

Janáček’s stark Prelude is a stunner: there’s no conventional beginning, no conventional thematic development; it simply starts, as if a light switch has been flicked on, and the baleful opening theme is distorted, repeated, squeezed until it leads into an extraordinary stretch of solo violin writing. Based on Dostoevsky’s novel,  Janáček’s final opera isn’t a faithful adaptation – it’s a selection of loosely linked scenes spread over three concise acts.

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Pelléas et Mélisande, Barbican Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

"Ne me touchez pas! Ne me touchez pas!" Mélisande's jittery first words could be the motto for the whole of Pelléas et Mélisande. How to touch, what to touch, when to and when not to touch, more specifically, how to mark without bruising, are the subjects and challenges thrown up by Debussy's delicate piece of operatic symbolism. Ones that all the artists in last night's concert performance at the Barbican Hall tackled with incredible levels of musicality.

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The Coronation of Poppea, King's Head Theatre

Igor Toronyi-Lalic Young sopranos Jessica Walker (Nero) and Zoe Bonner (Poppea) in one of their many sexy turns

When OperaUpClose's bar-side production of La bohème beat the ENO and Royal Opera House to the Olivier Awards' Best New Production gong earlier this year, it was hard - even in these award-sceptical...

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The Tsar's Bride, Royal Opera

David Nice All weddings for the Russian rich end in tears: Paul Curran's updated Rimsky-Korsakov at Covent Garden

Long before the curtain rose on this soapy operatic tale of power and poison, one big question loomed: could director Paul Curran, could anyone, bring Rimsky-Korsakov's sweet, doomed and very Russian bride to convincing life? The music's mostly strong, and unusually singer-friendly for this composer; the historically dodgy plot's patchy, but not inimical to resetting in the queasy milieu of the new Russian rich. Given the bloodstained start in a swish Moscow restaurant, I thought Curran...

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Fidelio, Opera North, Leeds Grand Theatre

graham Rickson Steven Harrison as Florestan (left) and Emma Bell as Leonore (right)

Unpleasant feelings of confinement and claustrophobia hit you when the curtain rises after Beethoven’s disconcertingly jolly overture; one small room is visible on stage, framed by black curtains. The sun shines oppressively through the barred windows, and the characters look constrained, physically awkward. After the occasionally over-the-top visuals of several recent Opera North...

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Iolanthe, Wilton's Music Hall

David Nice

What's this? Goosebumps? Tears? Surely not in the usually brittle world of the Savoy operas. Yet handle Sullivan's pathos with tenderness, make everyone believe in a recognition scene between a sinning fairy and her preening peer of a husband, and the spectators will be putty in your hands.

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