sat 08/08/2020

Opera Reviews

Cautionary Tales!, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds Grand Theatre

graham Rickson 'A glam-rock vision in blue shiny fabric and Heseltinian blond wig': Mark Le Brocq as Ponto the Lion

Trying to introduce children to classical music is a tricky business. The benchmarks are still Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf and Poulenc’s Babar – both characterised by witty, quirky music and strong storylines. Opera is a harder sell – there’s the slowness of it, the sheer lunacy of characters striding about on stage expressing their inner feelings at full volume, accompanied by a 70-piece orchestra. So credit is due to Opera North’s education department for...

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Aida, Royal Opera House

David Nice

What kind of Aida would you prefer: one in which singing actors stretched to the limits find Verdi's human volcano of emotions beneath the cod-Egyptian rubble, or a stand-and-deliver production with a stalwart cast of beaten-bronze voices? Having had a taste at least of the former once in my life, I wasn't very happy to succumb to the latter in this Covent Garden revival. It was the wall of sound in the big Act II ensemble which made me at least willing to be convinced.

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Dialogues des Carmélites, Guildhall School of Music & Drama

David Nice

Let's begin at the end. Isn't the nuns-to-the-scaffold scene which concludes Poulenc's ultimate testament of doubt and faith the deepest, most heart-wrenching finale in all opera? It even has the edge over Richard Strauss's Rosenkavalier trio and duet, in that the singers often end up in tears as well as the audience.

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The Mikado, English National Opera

alexandra Coghlan

At 25 years old, Jonathan Miller’s Mikado may be more Grande Dame than ingénue, but it still has a Charleston kick in its step and a shimmy in its pearls. Styled and stylised, chic and slick, it's as far from the operetta’s ubiquitous am-dram incarnations as from the Japan of the original.

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Il Trovatore, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff

stephen Walsh

Verdi’s Il Trovatore, the WNO season brochure assures us, “is Italian opera at its most passionate and full-blooded”. But you could sit through this revival of Peter Watson’s seven-year-old production and overlook the fact. Always understated (to put it kindly), with age it has retreated further into its shell. The singers face front and largely ignore one another; the soldiers seem to have taken orders from the latest tottering Middle Eastern tyrant not to fire on their own people...

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Anna Nicole, Royal Opera

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Look past the cum buckets, the trucker pussy, the fuck you-ing and cunt-hungry beasting (librettist Richard Thomas's words, not mine), the mountainous titties and cheap promotional candy that had been confected for the legions of rubbishy celebrity opera virgins scattered in the Royal Opera House audience at last night's world premiere and you will find a profoundly conservative, and mostly not unattractive, new opera in Anna Nicole.

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Parsifal, English National Opera

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

Some of you will know that Wagner and I haven't been seeing eye to eye of late. Last year's Tannhäuser I believed was the end of the road for the two of us. Not quite. With one of the most celebrated Wagner productions of the past two decades returning to the English National Opera last night - Nikolaus Lehnhoff's Parsifal - I decided to give him a final chance. My whole mind, body and soul was primed to repel it, yet I came out almost blubbing.

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Die Fledermaus, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff

stephen Walsh

Those WNO regulars who remember the company’s last Fledermaus (directed nine years ago by Calixto Bieito) with a shiver of horror can rest assured that its replacement contradicts it at almost every point. John Copley, past-master of Texttreue (truth to the text, or at least its spirit), does not rummage around in Strauss’s frothy masterpiece for a critique of modern man, does not transplant it to Merthyr Tydfil or turn it into a rugger-club knees-up, does not coarsen the...

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Nixon in China, Metropolitan Opera HD Live

David Nice

Metcentric New Yorkers tend to think an opera hasn’t achieved classic status until it arrives at their vast inner sanctum. Whereas other cities worldwide know that the inimitable Peter Sellars production of grand opera’s last masterpiece (to date) has become a virtual brand since its 1987 Houston premiere. John Adams's first, and biggest, opera was an obvious here-to-stay triumph at the Edinburgh Festival the following year, and its strengths become more apparent with the passing of time.

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The Portrait, Opera North

graham Rickson

Based on a short story by Gogol, Alexander Medvedev’s libretto for Mieczysław Weinberg’s The Portrait was originally conceived for Shostakovich. It was subsequently passed to Weinberg, who finished his opera in 1980. It’s a bleak, Faustian tale of a struggling artist who buys the eponymous painting, after which material success is mirrored by moral collapse.

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