wed 01/02/2023

Opera reviews, news and interviews

First Person: soprano Soraya Mafi on why Glyndebourne's tour cancellation is disastrous

Soraya Mafi

Anyone concerned about making the arts accessible regardless of where they live should be concerned by the recent announcement from Glyndebourne that it’s having to cease touring across England.

Least Like the Other, Irish National Opera, Linbury Theatre review - the harrowing of Rosemary Kennedy

David Nice

This multimedia horror revue gave me heart trouble, which is an odd kind of compliment. Not at first: the assault of abrasive music, the one singer having to leap all over the place vocally, competing with spoken word and information overload, can seem self-defeating. And that vile word “lobotomy” is enough in itself to trigger a panic attack. But ultimately the impact is powerful, unforgettable, in tune with great artistic statements about the human condition.


A Child in Striped Pyjamas, The Cockpit review -...

Bernard Hughes

The obstacles that have faced Noah Max in the five years since he resolved to make an opera of John Boyne’s Holocaust novel The Boy in the...

Katya Kabanova, LSO, Rattle, Barbican review -...

David Nice

Amanda Majeski pushed the boundaries as Janáček's tormented heroine for director Richard Jones at the Royal Opera. Here there were confines – no “...

Best of 2022: Opera

David Nice

Looking through everything we’ve covered this year – and some of our reviewers have made their choices from an even wider sphere – I find, as in 2021...

theartsdesk in Brno - a visionary at home in his ‘Moravian Bayreuth’

David Nice

Jiří Heřman delivers remarkable Janáček and Verdi in Brno’s National Theatre

Die Zauberflöte, Royal Opera review - classic show but disappointing conductor

Sebastian Scotney

Anna Prohaska and Gyula Orendt give performances of great subtlety and depth

Die Fledermaus, RNCM, Manchester review - a champagne cork-popping celebration

Robert Beale

Strauss In Da Haus as ingeniously updated scenario brings edge to the Bat-story

Don Pasquale, Irish National Opera review - stock comedy shines at close quarters

David Nice

Four principals and 12 instrumentalists, zestfully conducted, bring style to up-front farce

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

Sarah Connolly

The mezzo is joined by an operatic who's who in a plea to save English National Opera

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

David Nice

A committed company show, but Jake Heggie’s operatic musical is irredeemably shallow

The Rake's Progress, Royal Academy of Music review - Hogarth's Rake enters the digital age

Alexandra Coghlan

Energy and ideas (so many ideas) from this playful production, but where's the emotion?

First Person: conductor Leo Hussain on why we still need English National Opera in London

Leo Hussain

Arts Council England's evisceration of ENO has provoked outrage. A regular explains why

Alcina, Royal Opera review - sharp stage magic, mist over the pit

David Nice

Soprano Lisette Oropesa and director Richard Jones hold Handel’s sensuous torch aloft

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

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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