mon 22/07/2024

Opera reviews, news and interviews

ll Segreto di Susanna/Pagliacci, Opera Holland Park review - on with the motley, out with the fags

Boyd Tonkin

Could “Cav and Pag” give way to “Sue and Pag”? As a double-bill partner for Leoncavallo’s backstage shocker Pagliacci, Opera Holland Park have scheduled not the standard Cavalleria Rusticana but an entirely different one-act work. Premiered in Munich in 1909, Wolf-Ferrari’s Il Segreto di Susanna plays droll, even farcical, variations on the same theme of male jealousy as newlywed Count Gil suspects his bride Countess Susanna of having an affair. 

First Person: trans opera singer Lucia Lucas on Tippett’s 'New Year' and her life in music

Lucia Lucas

Until last week, Tippett’s New Year had not been staged since 1990, probably because it’s considered very hard to produce. I think it is generally harder than Britten. It’s also an ensemble piece; you need 10 people who are fairly accomplished in performing new works.


theartsdesk at the Buxton International Festival...

Robert Beale

Buxton International Festival offers one thundering success, one uneasy compromise and one surprisingly enjoyable experience, in its three mainstage...

First Person: Katharina Kastening on directing...

Katharina Kastening

Peter Brook's reimagining of Bizet's Carmen condenses the scale of the original into a more intimate theatrical experience. The score has been...

Orlando, Academy of Ancient Music, Cummings,...

Boyd Tonkin

The Academy of Ancient Music, which celebrates its “golden anniversary” this season, got going just as Handel’s operas began to leave the library at...

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Le nozze di Figaro, Garsington Opera review - fine-tuned telling it as it is

David Nice

Youthful leads add to the pleasures of Mozart's greatest comedy in perfect surroundings

Giulio Cesare, Glyndebourne review - every number a winner from dazzling revival cast

David Nice

David McVicar’s celebrated Handel returns in the highest style

theartsdesk at Smetanova Litomyšl - three fascinating operas and a masterpiece superbly vindicated

David Nice

Smetana 200 celebrated with a feast on a scale only possible in his native Czechia

Il Trittico, Welsh National Opera review - another triumph for a hard-pressed company

Stephen Walsh

Puccini's varied demands met con bravura

The Merry Widow, Glyndebourne review - fun and frolics in the Embassy

Stephen Walsh

Lehár upstaged but still triumphant

Giulio Cesare, Blackwater Valley Opera Festival review - characterful, lustrous Handel on parade

David Nice

An infinitely various cast compels as the splendour falls on castle walls

Tosca, Opera Holland Park review - passion and populism

Boyd Tonkin

1800, 1968, 2024: a smart revival makes Puccini's evergreen shocker sing again

Die Zauberflöte, Glyndebourne review - cornucopia of visual inventiveness eclipses everything else

Rachel Halliburton

An operatic feast for the eyes doesn't translate into conceptual satisfaction

Carmen, Glyndebourne review - total musical fusion

David Nice

Production tells the story, mostly, but it’s the lead and the conductor who electrify

L'Olimpiade, Irish National Opera review - Vivaldi's long-distance run sustained by perfect teamwork

David Nice

Sporting confusions and star-crossed lovers clarified by vivacious singing and playing

Remembering conductor Andrew Davis (1944-2024)


Fellow conductors, singers, instrumentalists and administrators recall a true Mensch

Götterdämmerung, LPO, Jurowski, RFH review - outside looking and listening in, always with fascination

David Nice

Every orchestral phrase and colour perfect, vocal drama often a notch below

Simon Boccanegra, Hallé, Elder, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester review - thrilling, magnificent exploration

Robert Beale

Verdi’s original version of the opera brought to exciting life

Aci by the River, London Handel Festival, Trinity Buoy Wharf Lighthouse review - myths for the #MeToo age

Boyd Tonkin

Star singers shine in a Handel rarity

Carmen, Royal Opera review - strong women, no sexual chemistry and little stage focus

David Nice

Damiano Michieletto's new production of Bizet’s masterpiece is surprisingly invertebrate

La scala di seta, RNCM review - going heavy on the absinthe?

Robert Beale

Rossini’s one-acter helps young performers find their talents to amuse

Death In Venice, Welsh National Opera review - breathtaking Britten

Mark Kidel

Sublime Olivia Fuchs production of a great operatic swansong

Salome, Irish National Opera review - imaginatively charted journey to the abyss

David Nice

Sinéad Campbell Wallace's corrupted princess stuns in Bruno Ravella's production

Jenůfa, English National Opera review - searing new cast in precise revival

David Nice

Jennifer Davis and Susan Bullock pull out all the stops in Janáček's moving masterpiece

theartsdesk in Strasbourg: crossing the frontiers

Boyd Tonkin

'Lohengrin' marks a remarkable singer's arrival on Planet Wagner

Giant, Linbury Theatre review - a vision fully realised

David Nice

Sarah Angliss serves a haunting meditation on the strange meeting of giant and surgeon

Der fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera review - compellingly lucid with an austere visual beauty

Rachel Halliburton

Bryn Terfel's Dutchman is a subtly vampiric figure in this otherworldly interpretation

The Magic Flute, English National Opera review - return of an enchanted evening

Boyd Tonkin

Simon McBurney's dark pantomime casts its spell again

Così fan tutte, Welsh National Opera review - relevance reduced to irrelevance

Stephen Walsh

School for lovers not much help to the singers

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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