Irresistible: Hansel and Gretel, at the Royal Opera House, reviewed

Fun fact: Engelbert Humperdinck composed part of Wagner’s Parsifal. Shortly before the première, it was discovered that Wagner’s score didn’t allow time for a crucial scene change. The 27-year-old Humperdinck, then working as Wagner’s assistant, composed a few temporary bars to cover the gap and, rather to his own surprise, found that they met with the Master’s full approval: ‘Why not? It should work!’ It’s worth knowing partly because of the light it throws on the practical, collegial working methods of music’s favourite cartoon supervillain, and partly because it reaffirms the originality of Humperdinck’s own best-known opera, Hansel and Gretel. How many artists could have flown that close to Wagner’s

Pitch-black satire drenched in an atmosphere of compelling unease: ETO’s Golden Cockerel reviewed

Blame it on Serge Diaghilev. Rimsky-Korsakov died in 1908 and never saw the première of his last opera, The Golden Cockerel. When the great showman finally presented it in Paris in 1914, it was as Le Coq d’Or: a spectacular opera-ballet hybrid, with colourful, folk-inspired designs by Natalia Goncharova that came to define the Ballets Russes in its imperial phase. That was the form in which it came to Britain, where the Evening Standard described it as a ‘farrago of love-making, black magic and ingenuous inconsequence’ before turning to the real news – the costumes. And that’s the basic impression – a fabulous but flimsy slice of Slavic exotica –

The genius of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker score

By all accounts, Tchaikovsky struggled to compose The Nutcracker. It wasn’t his idea of an effective ballet scenario, and he was unimpressed with the choreographer Marius Petipa’s prettified storyline. Mid-composition, he learned of the death of his younger sister Alexandra. ‘Even more than yesterday, I feel absolutely incapable of depicting the Kingdom of Sweets in music,’ he wrote. But inspiration can be counterintuitive. On a good day, Tchaikovsky could write as fluently as any Victorian serial novelist, churning out forgettable piano pieces (as he put it) ‘like batches of pancakes’. Projects like The Nutcracker put him through purgatory but the result, with hindsight, was nothing less than the sound of

Wow, this is good: Grange Park Opera’s Ivan the Terrible reviewed

There are worse inconveniences than having to wear a face mask to the opera. But there’s one consequence that hadn’t really struck home until an hour into Rimsky-Korsakov’s Ivan the Terrible. The citizens of Pskov are massing in the streets. The Tsar’s army is approaching, and Rimsky is building one of those surging Russian crowd scenes: bass-heavy chorus blazing away while ominous bell sounds — basses, horns and rasping gong — shake the orchestra to its bones. Suddenly a bloodstained figure staggers in and collapses; a refugee from nearby Novgorod. ‘Your brother-city sends its greetings, and asks you to arrange its funeral,’ he gasps. At that point, I’d have given