Alexandra Coghlan

After weeks of silence, Royal Opera reopened with a whimper

It was the fourth time, or maybe the fifth, that I found myself reaching for the tissues that I began to feel suspicious. Somewhere between the poignant gaiety of A.E. Housman’s ‘…lads that will never be old’, Shakespeare’s tender valediction ‘Fear no more the heat o’ the sun’ and Strauss’s ‘Morgen!’, with its rapturous vision

Why we love requiems

At some point during the 20th century death disappeared. The dying were discreetly removed from our communities and homes, taken to hospitals with short memories and wipe-clean walls. Mourning blacks faded before vanishing altogether; the elaborate funeral monuments of the 19th century shrugged off curlicues and cherubs and arranged themselves into unobtrusive, apologetic sobriety. Coffins

The best recordings of my favourite Passion

In the autumn of 1632, a man called Kaspar Schisler returned home to the small Bavarian town of Oberammergau. He didn’t walk through the gates in daylight, but waited until night, sneaking in past the tower guards. A few days later he was dead from the plague that was swelling and blistering its way across

Missing the beat

It was as though Damien Hirst had confessed a secret passion for Victorian watercolours, or Lars von Trier had admitted his life’s ambition to direct a rom-com. When it was announced that John Eliot Gardiner — pioneer of the early music movement — would conduct West Side Story at the Edinburgh Festival the reactions were

Chilling out | 11 July 2019

Think of the children in opera. Not knowing sopranos and mezzos, pigtailed and pinafored or tightly trousered-up to look child-like, but actual children. There are Mozart’s Three Boys, Menotti’s Amahl, possibly Debussy’s Yniold and Handel’s Oberto and, if you stretch a point, Marie’s little son in Wozzeck. But that’s about it. Until, that is, you

Male order | 4 July 2019

Another turn around the block for David McVicar’s handsome 1830s Figaro at the Royal Opera — the sixth since the production’s 2006 premiere — scarcely raises an eyebrow, let alone a pulse. But a quick glance down the cast list of the current revival reveals some curiosities. First to catch the eye is Kangmin Justin

Saved by the chorus

We’ve cried wolf with Handel. Ever since the modern trend began for staging the composer’s oratorios we’ve hailed each one in turn as the composer’s ‘most dramatic’. We’ve said it of Theodora, Saul, perhaps loudest (and most persuasively) of Jephtha. The trouble is that now, nearly 40 years since we last saw Belshazzar on an

More sex, please

Where was the desire, the frisson, the flicker of attraction? Hell, where was the sex? I ask because a week spent at the seedier end of the romance spectrum has left me feeling profoundly unsatisfied. Two classic femmes fatales — Puccini’s convent-girl manqué Manon Lescaut and Janacek’s dark-eyed gypsy Zefka — had their chance to

Vocal heroes | 9 May 2019

We’ve all read the article. It does the rounds with the dispiriting regularity of an unwanted dish on a sushi train. Classical concerts are dying and if they are to survive they need to evolve, to innovate, to banish (variously) seating, silence, dress codes (for musicians), dress codes (for audience), programme notes, formal venues… But

All at sea | 2 May 2019

The climactic central scene of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd ends unexpectedly. The naval court has reached a verdict of death, and Captain Vere must depart to tell Billy his fate. Voices fall silent, the stage empties, and for two whole minutes the unseen drama is distilled into just 34 chords. And not sprawling elbowfuls of