tue 16/04/2024

Opera reviews, news and interviews

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

Boyd Tonkin

“Site-specific” performance locations rarely come more atmospheric, or evocative, than this one. Beyond the East India Dock basin, with the hedgehog-backed dome of the O2 looming just across the Thames on a gusty spring evening, a cavernous “chain store” abuts the Trinity Buoy Lighthouse. For the London Handel Festival, director Jack Furness transforms this haunting (and haunted) chunk of early-Victorian dockland architecture into the studios of “Cyclops Pictures”.

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

David Nice

When will the Royal Opera give us a totally electrifying Carmen, rather than just a vocally perfect Carmen (as Aighul Akhmetshina surely is)? Supposed firebrand Damiano Michieletto’s production is mostly tepid after Barrie Kosky’s half-brilliant take. Kosky didn’t seem to care for his Don José or Micaëla, but as this officer turned smuggler fails to develop and the girl from his village is a plain-Jane cliché, there’s not much improvement on that front.


La scala di seta, RNCM review - going heavy on...

Robert Beale

The overture to Rossini’s La scala di seta is a frequent and familiar concert piece – not so the opera itself.It’s a light and frothy one-acter from...

Death In Venice, Welsh National Opera review -...

Mark Kidel

Benjamin Britten’s last opera Death in Venice (1973), adapted from Thomas Mann’s novella of the same name (1912) and the subject of one of Visconti’s...

Salome, Irish National Opera review -...

David Nice

“Based on the play by Oscar Wilde,” declared publicity on Dublin buses and buildings, reminding opera-cautious citizens that the poet whose text...

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

Manon Lescaut, English Touring Opera review - a nightmare in too many ways

Boyd Tonkin

Grotesque staging sabotages Puccini's breakthrough tragedy

Marx in London, Scottish Opera review - the humour of history made manifest

Miranda Heggie

A capital production of an unexpectedly comic opera

Cavalleria Rusticana/Aleko, Opera North review - a new foil for Mascagni

Robert Beale

Overlapping casting in two tragedies of infidelity and jealousy

Così fan tutte, Opera North review - a safe bet

Robert Beale

Voices and personalities in balance and contrast in revived Albery production

The Handmaid's Tale, English National Opera review - last chance saloon for sub-Atwood baggy monster

David Nice

Kate Lindsey is the saving, amazing grace of Poul Ruders’ lumpy music drama

Elektra, Royal Opera review - moral: don’t wait too long for revenge

David Nice

A great soprano now struggles with the toughest of roles

Albert Herring, Opera North review - immersive and intimate fun

Robert Beale

A gifted cast enliven Britten’s comedy of English village life

Jenůfa, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review - a variegated but gorgeous bouquet

David Nice

Iron fist in velvet glove for Janáček's tale of horror and hope in a rural community

Best of 2023: Opera

David Nice

A year rich in new music-dramas and perfect ensembles

theartsdesk in Ravenna - Riccardo Muti passes on a lifetime's operatic wisdom

David Nice

Three unforgettable evenings with the most experienced living exponent of Italian opera

Michael Powell: a happy time with Bartók’s Bluebeard

David Nice

Fine performers in perfect balance with fantastical visuals for this profound one-act opera

Daphne, Scottish Opera, Usher Hall, Edinburgh review - Strauss’s translucent hymn to nature

David Nice

A superb cast and glowing orchestra do justice to a late masterpiece

Rodelinda, The English Concert, Bicket, Saffron Hall review - perfect team helps us stay the long Handel course

David Nice

Saffron Hall celebrates its 10th anniversary in the greatest possible style

Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni, Royal College of Music review - a modest one-acter overloaded

David Nice

Good young singers get more opportunities than the actual work offers

Jephtha, Royal Opera review - uncomfortable sacrifice oratorio not seismic enough

David Nice

Sobriety and darkness eclipse Handel's dramatic vividness, despite strong performances

theartsdesk at Wexford Festival Opera - four operas and a recital in one crazy day

David Nice

Youth takes the comedy award in fringe delights alongside a well-done schlocky rarity

theartsdesk in Ukraine - Stankovych's 'Psalms of War' at the Lviv National Opera

Ed Vulliamy

A powerful new work written in blood from the inside

Un ballo in maschera, Chelsea Opera Group, Cadogan Hall review - Italianate vitality, if not much finesse

David Nice

Broad brush strokes, but here was a world-class Verdi heroine in the making

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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