Hugo Shirley

ENO’s The Girl of the Golden West is irresistibly seductive

Puccini’s La fanciulla del West is, one suspects, one of those works that modern audiences struggle to keep a straight face through. The hero, for a start, decides to call himself Dick Johnson. The piece’s Wild West trappings, long since staled into Hollywood cliché, still seem a strange fit for the operatic stage (it was

Robo-Tell hits Welsh National Opera

Is there a fundamental, insuperable problem with staging Rossini’s Guillaume Tell on a budget, without the resources to conjure up the sense of scale that was part of grand opéra’s appeal and raison d’être? Take away the special effects, whip away the phantasmagorical curtain, and, as with any Hollywood blockbuster, you are left with a

Mariinsky’s Les Troyens — a bad night for Berlioz and Edinburgh

I wonder whether grand opéra really takes war as seriously as this year’s Edinburgh Festival wanted it to. These vast works, written to exploit and reflect the power, resources and tastes of mid-19th-century Paris, tended to favour history and its battles for the scenic opportunities they afforded rather than for the lessons they taught. It

The small rewards of small-scale opera

Perhaps I should come clean straightaway and admit that, despite the fact that OperaUpClose is about to celebrate its fifth birthday, I’d never been to see one of its shows before last week. This has not been a conscious decision; maybe, though, I’d been unconsciously put off by the company’s early braggadocio — by the

I can’t see the point of Glyndebourne’s La traviata

One of the highlights of last year’s Glyndebourne Festival was the revival of Richard Jones’s Falstaff, spruced up and invigorated by Mark Elder’s conducting of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a beautifully balanced cast. Elder is also in charge again for the festival’s third new production of this year, Tom Cairns’s La

Buxton Festival sticks its neck out with two rarities by Dvorak and Gluck

Dvorak’s The Jacobin and Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, the two operas that opened this year’s Buxton Festival, are both relative rarities today, but their creators’ fortunes tell an interesting story. Dvorak’s operas — or at least Rusalka — joined the repertoire around the same time, during the 1980s, that Gluck’s arguably starting slipping from the

Manon Lescaut: Puccini’s Anna Nicole?

This season has already seen Manon Lescaut appear in several different operatic guises across the UK, but it was Covent Garden’s new production of Puccini’s version (its first staging of it in three decades) that was the hottest ticket of all. The Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais and the superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann were tackling the

A Rosenkavalier without a heart ain’t much of a Rosenkavalier

In all its minute details, Der Rosenkavalier is rooted in a painstakingly stylised version of Rococo Vienna that, paradoxically, is further fixed in a web of cannily juxtaposed anachronisms. Upset their balance and you risk upsetting the balance of the whole piece. That’s no bad thing, of course, but Richard Jones’s bold new production for

More woe for Oedipus

I had high hopes for Julian Anderson’s first opera, Thebans. Premièred at the Coliseum last Saturday, it promised to mark a departure from the trendiness of ENO’s recent commissions, Nico Muhly’s Two Boys, for example, or the dreadful Sunken Garden — in fact, ENO’s next season seems to reflect a company at last a little

Britten’s worldwide reputation is enhanced in Lyon

One of the proudest boasts to come from Britten HQ in Aldeburgh during the composer’s anniversary last year was that performances of his works were proliferating across the globe — and not just in the UK — as never before. If the Opéra de Lyon might be a little late to the anniversary party in

Bryn Terfel lords it over ‘Faust’ magnificently

There’s a great deal to disapprove of in Gounod’s Faust. It breaks down a pillar of western literature and whisks up what remains into a flouncy French fancy. It turns the hero’s famous striving into mere lust — for a virginal heroine who is cursed by one and all (‘Marguerite! Sois maudite!’, runs the rather-too-catchy

Mixed results from the ENO and ROH in their seasonal away games

It’s been a spring tradition for several years now for English National Opera to present small-scale productions in various venues around London. But this year the Royal Opera followed suit, heading across the Thames to the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare’s Globe. Ahead of the announcement of its solid but mainly safe 2014–15 season,

Handelian pleasures vs modern head-scratchers

Opera seems almost always to have been acutely concerned with its own future. These days this is most often manifested in occasionally desperate, sometimes patronising attempts to entice new audiences to the art form. A new three-way initiative between Aldeburgh Music, the Royal Opera and Opera North takes a different tack by enabling a new