Opera

Figure of mystery

9 July 2011 12:00 am

What is wrong with Peter Grimes, the central figure of Britten’s eponymous opera? Or should the question be: what is wrong with Peter Grimes? For though there is no question that the opera makes a powerful and disturbing impression in a decent performance, it turns out always to be rather difficult to locate the focus of the work.

The ultimate challenge

2 July 2011 12:00 am

Tristan und Isolde is one of the greatest challenges that an opera house can take on, in some ways the greatest of all.

Verdi without dignity

18 June 2011 12:00 am

Simon Boccanegra is distinctive, among all Verdi’s operas, for its darkness of tone, and for abjuring the vitality which, in his other works, the characters display, despite or because of the desperate situations which they are in.

Puccini’s riddle

11 June 2011 12:00 am

Puccini’s last, incomplete opera Turandot is a work that I usually find disgusting and boring, so much so that it is one of the very few repertoire works that I avoid seeing.

Master piece

28 May 2011 12:00 am

Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is one of the most taxing of all operas to stage, with a large cast, gigantic proportions and requirements of stamina, both musically and emotionally, such as very few works make.

Candid camera

28 May 2011 12:00 am

When the photographer Ida Kar (1908–74) was given an exhibition of more than 100 of her works at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1960, history was made.

Spark of the divine

21 May 2011 12:00 am

With its new production of Janácek’s last and in some ways most intractable opera, From the House of the Dead, Opera North shows once more that it is the most intelligently adventurous company in the UK, using its money where it is most needed: not on elaborate and perverse staging, but on high-class soloists and a small but excellent chorus, and an orchestra that can rival any in the country.

Berlioz traduced

14 May 2011 12:00 am

After its brief detour into magnificence with The Return of Ulysses at the Young Vic, ENO has returned to its hell-bent form with, appropriately enough, a dramatisation of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust.

Breaking the spell

7 May 2011 12:00 am

Fidelio, once regarded as an uncomplicated celebration of what its title suggests, and of freedom, especially political freedom, has become a problem work, and most productions of it amount to uninterestingly complicated attempts to circumvent issues which shouldn’t have been present in the director’s mind in the first place.

Russian revenge

23 April 2011 12:00 am

The Tsar’s Bride is Rimsky-Korsakov’s tenth opera, give or take various versions of some previous ones, but you’d never guess it.

Short cuts

16 April 2011 12:00 am

One of the troubles with opera is that since creating and putting one on involves so many people many composers write as if for eternity, or at least for a sizeable segment of it.

Lost in space

9 April 2011 12:00 am

The opening performance of the Royal Opera’s first revival of Fidelio, in the production by Jürgen Flimm which was unwisely imported in 2007, was so dreary that it would be better not to comment on it, except that it seems worth separating the inherently feeble elements from the ones that happened to be present, and which may well have disappeared in later performances.

Spellbound

26 March 2011 12:00 am

English Touring Opera continues to be the most heroic of companies. This spring season it is performing at 17 locations, from Exeter to Perth, Belfast to Norwich. And in the many years that I have been going to its productions, there has been no compromise in standards and absolutely no contraction of repertoire to the familiar and the safe, if anything the reverse.

Verdi without the trappings

19 March 2011 12:00 am

Scene: the Royal Opera House, last Friday, 10.35 p.m. In the last act of Aida, Amneris, in the formidable person of Olga Borodina, has just concluded her magnificent denunciation of priests: ‘Cruel monsters! You will always be thirsty for blood!’ and the final ten minutes remain, the exquisite scene in which the hero and heroine suffocate while singing their farewell to life.

Winning way

12 March 2011 12:00 am

Two of the most popular operas in the repertoire, works which I adore, but which I’m almost always disappointed by productions of; yet on two consecutive evenings in the Wales Millennium Centre I gained intense pleasure from each of them.

Musical marvel

5 March 2011 12:00 am

It is some time since any of the masterpieces of Wagner’s high maturity has been staged in London, so ENO’s revival of Parsifal was most welcome, despite memories of the irritations and worse of the production in 1999.

Touching the void

26 February 2011 12:00 am

The Royal Opera has been both noisy and evasive about Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new opera, Anna Nicole, with words by Richard Thomas of Jerry Springer: the Opera notoriety.

Facing reality

19 February 2011 12:00 am

Artistic integrity is the subject of Mieczysław Weinberg’s opera The Portrait, as it is of Gogol’s short story from which it is adapted.

Deriding Donizetti

12 February 2011 12:00 am

Someone should write an opera about a once-great opera company, now in artistically suicidal decline.

Animal magic

5 February 2011 12:00 am

The annual collaboration between Scottish Opera and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama is, as the principal of the RSAMD writes, ‘a model...for partnership working between professionals and professionals-in-training’, and it is hard to think of any work more suitable for this partnership than Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen.

Ruffled feathers

29 January 2011 12:00 am

The Royal Ballet could not have timed better its new run of Swan Lake. Swans — and black ones, in particular — are all the rage these days.

No-hoper

29 January 2011 12:00 am

As I sat fuming through the latest absurd production of Carmen, this one directed by the controversial Daniel Kramer for Opera North, it struck me that this opera, like one other of the trio of popular masterpieces set in or around Seville, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, suffers because its central figure leads a separate life of her or his own; though they are most famous in the context of these works.

Gender problems

22 January 2011 12:00 am

It’s sometimes intriguing to speculate, as you go to an opera in a fringe production of one kind or another, about how much messing around (used neutrally) this or that popular work can take.

Witch craft

15 January 2011 12:00 am

Is Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel an opera for children of all ages, or for grown-ups and for children, or mainly for grown-ups? I went to the Royal Opera’s revival of it just after Christmas, to a 12.30 matinée (there were several), which I took to be for the benefit of children, as well as possibly being an unusual piece of thoughtfulness about transport on the part of the management.

Production values

8 January 2011 12:00 am

In the absence of any operas to attend, I’ve been reading the most recent defence of ‘director’s opera’, a book with the characteristic title Unsettling Opera, by the American academic David J. Levin.