Tag Archives: opera review

Semiramide, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2017

For a Rossini work not staged by the Royal Opera in over 150 years this revival may seem a brave move, but Antonio Pappano in the orchestra pit and the superb cast of singers made it a musical treat. Even better than the excellent BBC Proms concert performance of 2016, which featured two of the …

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Marnie, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2017

From a powerful start with timpani and clashing chords, illustrating the energy and activity of a busy office, this opera opens out into thriller. As Marnie steals and steals again, giving money to her crabby mother to assuage some mysterious guilt, you wonder what next for this strangely self-absorbed young woman, and as a friend …

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Rodelinda, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2017

The libretto for Handel’s Rodelinda, regina de’ Longobardi (queen of the longbeards, or Lombards) was written by the remarkable Nicola Francesca Haym, musician, theatre manager, performer, and even numismatist who wrote the first work on the ancient coins in the British Museum. Its huge clarity, particularly in Amanda Holden’s excellent translation, brings to life a …

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From the House of the Dead, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, October 2017

Hugely powerful and strangely life affirming. Janáček’s opera on Dostoyevsky’s novel about convicts in a Siberian prison camp might seem unpromising material, but the composer was a master at turning stories into dramatic masterpieces and this — his final opera — is extraordinary. Composed on hand written staves that did not always extend to a …

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Barber of Seville, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, Oct 2017

This truly wonderful production by Jonathan Miller, now in its thirteenth revival, is a star in the ENO firmament, and a friend seeing it for the first time was bowled over by the costumes, sets and lighting. Under revival director Peter Relton, whose Tosca launched the new Grange Park opera this past summer, it looks …

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Aida, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, Sept 2017

This brand new Aida from Phelim McDermott, whose stunning Akhnaten for the ENO in 2016 won the Olivier Award earlier this year, showed once again some spectacular theatre aided by the Improbable company. It all started with great subtlety as the curtain peeped open, at first showing just a small triangle of light at the …

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Khovanshchina, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, September 2017

This great opera portrays late seventeenth century events in Russia before Peter the Great came to power. Musorgsky, who wrote his own libretto, invents some love interest, notably in the character of Marfa, though the true historical background and exigencies of getting operas to stage are well described in the excellent programme essays, which also …

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La Bohème, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2017

Forget the fine new production for a moment – this was a fantastic performance. The musical dynamics of Antonio Pappano’s conducting allowed Puccini’s score to express itself in every note. His consummate musical direction supported a gripping performance by Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo, with a sweetly sung yet hugely powerful Mimi by Nicole Car, both …

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La Clemenza di Tito, BBC Prom 59, Royal Albert Hall, RAH, August 2017

Hearing the overture without the stage trickery of the Glyndebourne production allowed us to fully appreciate the glorious dramatic intensity and lightness of spirit given to Mozart’s music by Robin Ticciati and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. The absence of efforts at contemporary relevance by a director — one of the joys of …

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Khovanshchina, BBC Prom 29, Royal Albert Hall, RAH, August 2017

As an old opera buff once told me, anyone confused by the story line in Khovanshchina should simply treat it as a series of tableaux — wise advice since Mussorgsky telescoped the history of three different uprisings onto a massive musical canvas painted with emotional confrontations, religious fundamentalism, human ambition and a struggle for the …

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Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, July 2017

In Wagner’s final and most abstract opera, Uwe Eric Laufenberg’s superb production sets the mystical land of the Grail in the Middle East. The exact location appears fleetingly on a map during the Act 1 journey to the Grail ceremony where Gurnemanz explains that space and time become one, which they do at the speed …

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Bayreuth Festival, July 2017

Wagner’s Nuremberg is a city of trials: Walther’s trial by the Mastersingers in Act 1, Beckmesser’s trial by Sachs as he delivers his serenade in Act 2, and their separate trials by the people in Act 3. Yet fifty years after Wagner’s death, Hitler took power and Nuremberg became the venue for those post-war Nazi …

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Mosè in Egitto, Bregenzer Festspiele, July 2017

This 1818 Rossini opera about the Hebrew Exodus involves a love affair between the Pharaoh’s son Osiride and a Hebrew girl called Elcia. Moses’ attempts to lead his people out of captivity are opposed by Osiride, who is unwilling to lose Elcia, and after numerous emotional conflicts the opera ends with the crossing of the …

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Carmen, Bregenz lake-stage, July 2017

The opening night of the Bregenz Festival saw a spectacular production of Carmen in the pouring rain. The performers got soaked, but no matter because Carmen escapes at the end of Act I by leaping into the lake, and in the final moments Don Jose drowns her — see my review in the Telegraph on …

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Don Pasquale, Glyndebourne, GFO, July 2017

What a pleasure to see Mariam Clément’s 2013 Festival production revived. On its revolving stage, split into three rooms, we see the charming Dr. Malatesta of Moldovan baritone Andrey Zhilikhovsky flitting like a spirit at the start of the performance. Malatesta is the soul of this opera, a Figaro-like character whose deceptions are the essence …

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Lucio Silla, Buxton Festival, BIF, July 2017

In true eighteenth century operatic fashion this presents a conflict between power and love, embodied in Lucio Silla (Lucius Cornelius Sulla) a Roman Consul and dictator during the early first century BC. The plot centres on the faithful love between Giunia and Cecilio, despite Silla’s attempts to win Giunia for himself. Lucio Cinna (Lucius Cornelius …

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Albert Herring, Buxton Festival, July 2017

Its narrow-minded Suffolk village setting makes Benjamin Britten’s only comic opera something of a counterpoint to his Peter Grimes from two years earlier. The plot is based on a Guy de Maupassant short story where the absence of a suitable girl as Rose Queen prompts the village matriarch to crown a Rose King, who then …

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Macbeth, Buxton Festival, July 2017

Last year the Buxton Festival put on a very successful Leonora, rather than its later version Fidelio, and this year sees the original 1847 version of Verdi’s Macbeth. Its directness and freshness are illuminated by Elijah Moshinsky’s minimal, darkly-lit, and very effective staging with excellent movement conveying the powers of hell embodied in the witches, …

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Die Walküre, Grange Park Opera, GPO, West Horsley Place, July 2017

The recent tendency to set operas in the period leading up to the first world war seems to inspire this production by Stephen Medcalf. The Valkyries are in spiked helmets, Wotan is a general, and we are in a grand house furnished with varying collections of such things as butterflies and daggers. In addition to …

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Mitridate, re di Ponto, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, June 2017

If beautiful singing and eighteenth century stage spectacle appeals, then Graham Vick’s production of this early Mozart opera, in Paul Brown’s bold designs and gloriously elaborate costumes, certainly hits the spot. The title character, Mithridates VI reigned as king of Pontus, a region comprising much of northern Anatolia and coastal areas of the Black Sea, …

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Jenufa, Grange Park Opera, Theatre in the Woods, GPO, June 2017

Czech verismo with attendant Central European melancholy, this carries quite a punch. There are four principal characters, Jenufa who is pregnant by Števa, her step-mother the Kostelnička (church sexton), and Števa’s half-brother Laca who adores Jenufa, but jealously cuts her face, disfiguring her. She adores Števa but he rejects her, and Laca is horrified by …

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Tosca, Grange Park Opera, Theatre in the Woods, GPO, June 2017

Grange Park Opera’s new theatre is a small miracle. Built in under a year, the acoustics of this mini La Scala with its four tiers of seats in a horseshoe-shaped auditorium, allowed conductor Gianluca Marcianò with the BBC Concert Orchestra to deliver a full-blooded account of Puccini’s masterpiece in the Surrey countryside. Full-bloodied too in …

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Otello, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, June 2017

Putting Shakespeare on stage demands theatricality, which Keith Warner’s new production delivers right at the start with Iago spotlighted on a dark stage, an image repeated at the start of Act III with Otello himself. The massive ship in Act I, and actors creating merry havoc in the fight that Iago provokes between Cassio and …

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Tosca, Nevill Holt Opera, NHO, June 2017

This year’s Tosca at Nevill Holt produced by Oliver Mears, an intelligent director who clearly cares about the music, augurs well for his new appointment as artistic director of the Royal Opera. The setting, the troubled Italy of the 1970s when anti-establishment forces such as the Red Brigades were causing havoc, developed from an original …

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Hamlet, Glyndebourne, GFO, June 2017

Wow! As a friend remarked at the interval, during this hugely theatrical performance, “we were on the edge of our seats”. How did Australian composer Brett Dean and his librettist Matthew Jocelyn do it? Certainly Neil Armfield’s excellent direction, Jon Clark’s wonderful lighting, and the large set designs by Ralph Myers, which the performers themselves …

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Tristan und Isolde, Longborough Festival Opera, LFO, June 2017

Since this opened in 2015 celebrating sesqui-centenary of the opera, I have attended two other productions plus a terrific concert performance at Grange Park last summer, and one thing is clear. Less is more. While Bayreuth’s 2015 production abandoned their previous directorial absurdities the English National Opera went in the other direction with pretentious fussiness …

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Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Grange Festival, June 2017

As the applause swelled after this opening night of the new Grange Festival, musical director Michael Chance came on stage to thank everyone, singers and musicians included, quoting from Shakespeare’s Tempest that “Our revels now are ended”. It was a fitting end to an evening of excellent singing and musicianship that gave us Monteverdi’s late …

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Der Rosenkavalier, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, June 2017

The recent cinema screening of Robert Carsen’s Rosenkavalier production (London and NY) shows a subtle emphasis on the passing of time, and this production takes a similar viewpoint but in a more overt manner. Judging by most of the costumes, the setting is presumably about 1911 when the opera was written and the passing of …

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Hipermestra, Glyndebourne, May 2017

Fifty brides for fifty brothers, each to be murdered by his wife on their wedding night, is a story that emerges from Greek mythology — a rich source of material for the first opera composers, including Monteverdi’s student Cavalli who composed this work. Hipermestra is based on the myth of Danaus (Danao) and his twin …

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Don Carlo, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, May 2017

That great playwright Schiller did not let historical facts get in the way of a good story, and his Don Karlos is a gripping stage tragedy. Traducung the close and loving relationship between Philip II and his third wife Elizabeth de Valois, step-mother to Don Carlo, it was perfect for Verdi, who added elements of …

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The Exterminating Angel, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2017

Thomas Adès’ previous opera The Tempest, set on Prospero’s mysterious island, finds a counterpoint here in the ostensibly mundane setting of an elegant dinner party — but all is not as it seems. Both operas feature very high soprano roles, Ariel in the Tempest and three of the ladies in Angel, again with the idea of …

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Die Frau ohne Schatten, Staatsoper Berlin, Festtage, Schiller Theater, April 2017

This marvellous Claus Guth production, first staged at La Scala in 2012, and at Covent Garden three years ago, has now found its way to Berlin under the baton of Zubin Mehta, who produced a terrific performance of Richard Strauss’s score, with its combination of gentle chamber episodes with mighty moments of emotional transformation. Despite …

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Parsifal, Staatsoper Berlin, Festtage, Schiller Theater, April 2017

This year’s Festival opened with a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic under Barenboim: Mozart’s Haffner and Jupiter symphonies were given powerful lyricism, and Schönberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 wonderful chromatic pulsation. To follow this, Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle fully brought out the emotional depths of Wagner’s Parsifal in Dmitri Tcherniakov’s intriguing production from the …

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Aroldo, UC Opera, UCL, Theatre Royal Stratford East, March 2017

Verdi’s Aroldo is a later adaptation of his Stiffelio about a Protestant pastor who eventually forgives his wife’s adultery. This priest’s tale was not easy one for Italian audiences, and following the huge success of Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata, Verdi wanted to recreate the opera in a different setting. His librettist Piave turned …

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Partenope, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, March 2017

When this Handel opera first opened in London in 1730 it came as something of a surprise from a composer known for his serious opera (opera seria). Despite a structure that follows that form however, its romantic complications and gender confusion make for a light-hearted comedy. Partenope, the founder of Naples in classical legend, appears …

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, March 2017

As the Royal Opera and Kasper Holten part company, this is his last throw of the dice. Like many continental European directors he delivers us a ‘concept’, and in the first two acts I was puzzled to know why it necessitated the abandoning of the church, Sach’s house, Pogner’s house, and the street. Act I …

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Patience, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2017

What fun! Just the ticket for an evening out, and Liam Steel’s witty production makes this a fine riposte to the absurdities and pretentions of modern life. Of course, Gilbert’s libretto is poking fun at the sophistry and ‘art for art’s sake’ attitude that infected the Victorian aesthetic movement, personified here by Reginald Bunthorne. He …

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Tosca, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2017

Opening night was a complete sell-out, justifiably so. Not only is this one of the great operas, but in Paula Sides the ETO produced a superb heroine, clothing her in a glorious green silk dress that would not shame a Vermeer painting. The simple sets include all the essentials, and the separate desk and small …

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The Winter’s Tale, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2017

Nearly three years ago the Royal Ballet put Winter’s Tale on the ballet stage, and now it’s the opera’s turn. In a remarkable compression of Shakespeare’s five acts to an hour and forty minutes of music and drama, composer Ryan Wigglesworth has created a score that moves from the sparest flicker of passing time to …

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Le Vin herbé, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2017

The French title (the wine infused drink) refers to the love potion shared by Tristan and Isolde, and at its first fully staged performance at the Salzburg Festival in 1948 it took the German title Der Zaubertrank (the Magic Drink). Wagner’s famous Tristan und Isolde was partly inspired by his relationship with Mathilde Wesendonk while …

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Pirates of Penzance, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2017

What a pleasure to welcome back Mike Leigh’s Pirates, which played to packed houses on its first run two years ago. Leigh, the director of that 1999 film Topsy-Turvy about Gilbert and Sullivan’s collaboration, retains the hard edge of Gilbert’s genius while not stinting on the colour. Indeed the bold colours and central circle of …

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La Bohème, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, January 2017

For a touring production with limited scope for elaborate stage designs this is little short of miraculous. Tim Mitchell’s lighting works wonders with the rooftops of Paris, the romance and passion of Act I turning to a scene of paradise after death in Act IV as Mimi lies alone in the Bohemians’ apartment. I loved …

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Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, December 2016

The essence of Robert Carsen’s powerful new production is time. By setting it in the period of its creation, the early twentieth century rather than the mid-eighteenth, he compresses time, giving those glorious late nineteenth century waltz melodies and the story itself the feel of a world about to be changed forever, as indeed it …

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Lulu, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2016

For those who saw this same William Kentridge production in live cinema relay from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the performance on the stage of the London Coliseum is a revelation. Seeing all the action all the time, the mime artists, the subtle animations of charcoal drawings on the printed pages of a dictionary …

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Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2016

This classic 1980 production by John Schlesinger, superbly revived by Daniel Dooner, provides the juxtaposition of magic and reality inherent in so many of E T A Hoffmann’s stories. The play by Barbier and Carré that underlies Offenbach’s opera is based on a selection of his tales that illuminate the dichotomy between life and art, …

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The Nose, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, October 2016

They say it’s not over until the fat lady sings, but in this case the final moment is the sneeze, which for a man who lost his nose is the true test of recovery. It all starts with the sound of the wonderful John Tomlinson as the barber sharpening his razor on a leather strap. …

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Pearl Fishers, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2016

Penny Woolcock’s visually stunning production, seen at the Metropolitan Opera in New York within the past year and now on its second ENO revival, has seen changes since the 2010 premiere. Less emphasis is given to the influence of the modern world on ancient Hindu society in this traditional fishing village, where Dick Bird’s sets …

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Ulysses’ Homecoming, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, October 2016

The text for this 1640 opera was written specially to attract the 73-year old Monteverdi to Venice, where opera had gone public for the first time just three years earlier. It is a remarkable work based on the second half of Homer’s Odyssey, starting with the Phaecians taking the hero back to Ithaca after 20 …

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La Calisto, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, October 2016

This 1651 opera by Venetian composer Francesco Cavalli (1602–76), based on a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, concerns a nymph called Calisto (‘most beautiful’ in Greek), lusted after by Jupiter who disguises himself as her mistress Diana in order to woo her. Diana herself is secretly drawn to one of her admirers, the youth Endymion, setting …

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Tosca, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2016

This second revival of Catherine Malfitano’s powerful production, with its massive sets for the first two acts and surreal night sky for the pre-dawn execution of Act III, makes the perfect follow-up to last Friday’s excellent season opening — Richard Jones’s intriguing take on Don Giovanni. This allows the blood and passion of Puccini’s masterpiece …

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Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2016

The Don is dead. Long live the Don. Such is the message of this new ENO production by Richard Jones where the Don personifies a force of nature on which women can hang their fantasies. It all starts during the overture where we see Giovanni taking innumerable women through a door guarded by Leporello, and …

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Così fan tutte, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2016

This replacement for Jonathan Miller’s gloriously effective production of Così was a disappointment. The new director Jan Philipp Gloger, whose outré Flying Dutchman I saw at Bayreuth four years ago, was trying too hard to be clever, with a potpourri of ideas centred on the juxtaposition of life and theatre. This started during the overture …

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Demetrio, Opera Settecento, Cadogan Hall, September 2016

The libretto to Hasse’s Demetrio, by the famous Metastasio who was born and died a year before the composer, is based on real events in the mid-second century BC. In 150 BC Demetrius Soter of the Greek Seleucid dynasty, which controlled most of the Middle East north of Arabia, was defeated in battle by Alexander …

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Norma, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2016

So many crucifixes — a veritable forest of them in the land of the druids, portrayed here as a Christian community with priests and lay people in standard Catholic attire. Such is the modern take on Norma by Spanish-Catalan director Àlex Ollé, complete with modern décor and flat-screen TV for the living quarters of Norma …

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Macbeth, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, September 2016

Of Verdi’s three Shakespeare works — the others are his final operas Otello and Falstaff — this marks something of a turning point in his career, and its 1847 premiere in Florence was a huge success. In this staging by Oliver Mears, first performed in 2014 by Northern Ireland Opera where he is artistic director, …

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Semiramide, BBC Proms, Prom 68, Royal Albert Hall, 4 September 2016

Based on a drama by Voltaire, this Rossini opera centres round the legendary if fictional Queen Semiramide (Semiramis) of Babylon, a source of endless fascination for Classical and Renaissance authors, who based their fables on Persian sources. The legend is derived from at least two Assyrian queens: Sammuramat (the origin of the name) in the …

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Glyndebourne, GFO, August 2016

This was a treat. Peter Hall’s production with its moving trees and bushes and gently swaying branches shows the forces of nature creating the magic that is so well exemplified in Benjamin Britten’s music. John Bury’s designs and Paul Pyant’s lighting foster an atmosphere where the desires of the lovers and the temerity of the …

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Béatrice et Bénédict, Glyndebourne, GFO, August 2016

In his last opera Berlioz extracts a single thread from Much Ado About Nothing by his beloved Shakespeare. Composed to a libretto he fashioned from the play the score’s wit and inventiveness delight the ear, but it is more a series of tableaux than a fully formed whole, and the question is how to stage …

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Queen of Spades, Opera Holland Park, OHP, August 2016

This Tchaikovsky opera contrasts psychological darkness with airy gaiety that comes out very effectively in Rodula Gaitanou’s production. Excellent chorus direction and Jamie Neale’s choreography creates a sense of fun and spontaneity in lighter moments, and the wonderful sets and costumes by Cordelia Chisholm deliver a sumptuous setting for this tale of obsession that descends …

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Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, July 2016

Can Christians, Jews and Muslims live in harmony in the Middle East? The final scene of Bayreuth’s new Parsifal supplies a message of hope when these three faiths come together in the opera’s final act of redemption. My review appeared in the Daily Telegraph, 27 July 2016

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Turandot, Bregenz Festival, July 2016

Opening the Bregenz festival was Franco Faccio’s Hamlet in the 1,800 seat Festspielhaus — see my Telegraph review — followed by Turandot on the vast Seebühne (Lake Stage), visible to an open-air audience of nigh on 7,000, on the second night. The main part of the stage is relatively close to the water, but the …

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Hamlet by Franco Faccio, Bregenz Festival, July 2016

This long lost Hamlet opera opened the Bregenz Festival, celebrating both its 70th anniversary and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. My review appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

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La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2016

Rossini’s delightful Cenerentola is just the thing for Opera Holland Park, particularly in this charming a witty Oliver Platt production brought to life by a fine cast. The splendid designs by Neil Irish contrast the black, white and silver of the courtiers in the ball scene, with the garish colours of the ugly sisters and …

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Tristan und Isolde, Grange Park Opera, July 2016

What a superb end to the season, their last at The Grange before moving to the Theatre in the Woods now being constructed at West Horsley Place in Surrey. This Company really knows how to do things, and when Anja Kampe as Isolde, and Clive Bayley as King Marke had to pull out, they found …

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I Capuleti e I Montecchi, Buxton Opera Festival, July 2016

After Bellini’s unexpected failure with his 1829 opera Zaira, based on Voltaire’s tragedy from a century earlier, the following year saw a new opportunity with an opera for the 1830 Carnival season in Venice. Unfortunately he had but a month and a half to prepare it, so his librettist Felice Romani rewrote an earlier text …

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Leonore, Buxton Opera Festival, July 2016

As an opera composer the 34-year old Beethoven was not a natural and his 1805 Leonore caused him no little trouble. Its poor reception by an audience composed largely of soldiers in Napoleon’s army, who would mostly not have understood the German Singspiel, did not help and a year later he cut it from three acts …

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Il Trovatore, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, July 2016

Darkness, fire and blood are the elements around which director David Bösch has built his new co-production with Frankfurt Opera, debuting here at Covent Garden. Darkness is inherent in the main events of this opera, for example in Act I when Leonora mistakes the Count di Luna for her lover Manrico, and indeed in Act …

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Jenufa, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2016

This is exactly what the ENO should be doing, presenting a straightforward staging with fine singers and a conductor capable of fully realising the drama. Mark Wigglesworth, who resigned as music director three months ago, allowed Janáček’s score to express the emotional power it embodies and the second act, where the drama makes its turning …

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Don Carlo, Grange Park, GPO, June 2016

For a large opera house Verdi’s Don Carlo is quite a challenge, even in the four (rather than five) act version seen here. The great auto-da-fé scene at the end of Act II, where Carlo leads in a deputation from Flanders, threatens his father Philip II and is disarmed by Rodrigo, before the burning of …

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Werther, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, June 2016

After recently witnessing a famous opera contaminated by a director desperate to make his mark, it was a pleasure to relax into the comforting common sense of a production that serves both story and music. This fine revival of Benoît Jacquot’s very successful 2011 production by Andrew Sinclair sees a few changes. The persistently intrusive …

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Tannhäuser, Longborough Opera, LFO, June 2016

At this performance on June 11th, the Queen’s official 90th birthday, the orchestra and chorus started with a rousing rendition of the National Anthem before the opera itself — a nice touch. The subsequent performance was a stunning success for Neal Cooper, making his first appearance in the title role under conductor Anthony Negus, who …

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Tristan and Isolde, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2016

This new production by incoming artistic director Daniel Kramer is his first full-length opera for the ENO — he previously directed a fine Bluebeard’s Castle as part of a double bill in 2009 — so it was intriguing to see the result. There was a plethora of ideas, too many for my liking, and greater …

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Iris, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2016

Opera Holland Park staged Mascagni’s little-known Iris during their second season in 1997, but this production by Olivia Fuchs is entirely new. The opera itself premiered in 1898, eight years after Cavalleria Rusicana, and Mascagni’s librettist for this new work suggested a tragedy set in Japan, in keeping with a vogue for exotic subjects. The …

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Nabucco, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, June 2016

Complementing the dramatic drive given to Verdi’s music by Maurizio Benini in the orchestra pit, and the terrific power the chorus delivered in this sixth century BC tale of Babylonian conquest and Hebrew captivity, the singers produced gripping vocal performances. Placido Domingo sang with convincing strength as Nabucco, a powerful ruler torn and confused by …

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Oliver!, Grange Park Opera, GPO, June 2016

Sheer joy! And the second night audience increasingly responded to this marvellously staged musical, so that by the time the cast gave us a warmly spontaneous rendition of Consider Yourself they clapped along with the music. Spontaneity from the cast too. When the boys dance in time it is surely because Fagin has taught them …

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Oedipe, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, May 2016

After a gestation period of over twenty years, Enescu’s only opera saw its first performance in 1936. Since then it has been a rarity, and despite this interesting production, originally created in 2011 for La Monnaie in Brussels, one sees why. Enescu’s inspiration was Sophocles’ play Oedipus the King, considered one of the finest dramas …

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Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne, GFO, May 2016

The cast for Glyndebourne’s new Barber — its first performance of this opera for over thirty years — exuded huge zest and youthful energy, encouraged by the infectious enthusiasm of conductor Enrique Mazzola, who brought Rossini’s score vividly to life. This was a team whose rapid-fire musicality drew cheers from the audience, with the inimitable …

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne, GFO, May 2016

The first revival of this David McVicar production, with its glorious designs by Vicki Mortimer, beautifully lit by Paule Constable, seems even better than it did five years ago. As Wagner’s only comic opera — apart from his very early Liebesverbot — Meistersinger needs the light touch that McVicar so ably gives it. The marvellous …

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Madam Butterfly, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2016

Anthony Minghella’s hugely successful Butterfly production, which the Metropolitan Opera in New York has broadcast to cinemas around the world, could hardly come at a better time for the ENO. Cinema screenings are one thing, but live in the London Coliseum is an experience not to be missed, and this revival under the superb baton …

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Tannhäuser, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2016

This first revival of Tim Albery’s 2010 production was very welcome, with a cast in some ways stronger than that of five seasons ago. The most prominent feature of the production is the on-stage version of the main proscenium arch complete with Royal Opera House curtains, representing the entrance to the Venusberg. Its later decayed …

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Lucia di Lammermoor, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2016

Arrogance. In her first classical opera for the ROH — she produced Written on Skin earlier — controversial theatre director Katie Mitchell treats Donizetti’s masterpiece with too little respect. Predictably enough it was loudly booed. I didn’t mind the change to the story where the women take control. Lucia seduces Edgardo, becomes pregnant — throwing up …

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La Favorite, UCL Opera, Theatre Royal Stratford East, March 2016

Donizetti’s La Favorite, once far more widely performed than it is today, is a triumph for UCOpera, who have brought this unfairly neglected work to stage in its original French version. The story is straightforward enough: a young novice monk, Fernand is rejected from the monastery after falling in love with a lady named Léonor, …

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Boris Godunov, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, March 2016

The background to this opera is the reign of Ivan the Terrible, who curbed the power of the boyars and surrounded himself with reliable, talented men such as Boris Godunov, who became regent to the weak-minded Fyodor on Ivan’s death. During the regency, a later son named Dmitri died in slightly mysterious circumstances, and after …

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Don Giovanni, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2016

This intriguing new production sets the action in the underground world of Vienna during the early 1900s, and a junction of two tunnels at the rear of the stage later becomes the memorial to the Commendatore. His dramatic appearance in ghostly silhouette towards the end well suits this subterranean world. Though slightly different from the …

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Pia de’ Tolomei, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2016

While working on the Siege of Calais, performed by the ETO this time last year, Donizetti and his librettist wanted to duplicate their great success with Lucia di Lammermoor. Casting around for another gentle and loving heroine, whose death would evoke huge pathos, they settled on Pia de’ Tolomei from Dante’s Purgatorio, and in James …

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Iphigénie en Tauride, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2016

In Greek tradition, Iphigenia was sacrificed so the gods would supply her father King Agamemnon with a wind to sail his becalmed fleet against Troy. Euripides tackled the subject in Iphigenia at Aulis, followed later by Iphigenia in Tauris, the basis for this Gluck opera in which Artemis — here called Diana — has already …

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Akhnaten, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, March 2016

This final opera in Philip Glass’s trilogy on men who changed history — Einstein, Gandhi, Akhnaten — last seen here in 1987, well deserves Phelim McDermott’s spectacular new production. Akhnaten may not be a household name like the other two, but this eighteenth dynasty Egyptian king who temporarily overturned the Egyptian religion with his monotheistic …

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Figaro’s Divorce, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2016

Beaumarchais wrote a sequel to his two plays underlying the Barber of Seville and Marriage of Figaro. In La Mère coupable a brief affair between the Countess and Cherubino results in a child, brought up as the Count’s son, and this opera, to David Pountney’s libretto based on a play by Ödön von Horváth (1901–1938), …

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Marriage of Figaro, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2016

This second part of WNO’s Figaro triptych uses the same excellent design team of Ralph Koltai (sets), Sue Blane (costumes) and Linus Fellbom (lighting) as the Barber of Seville, with designs again featuring two huge walls. In this case they move apart to allow entrances, exits and a hint of deception between master and servant, …

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Norma, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2016

Of all operas in the first half of the nineteenth century, Bellini’s Norma was one of the greatest, widely admired by composers and having a profound effect on Wagner. Yet the ENO has never before put it on stage, for one simple reason. It requires an extraordinary soprano who can combine enormous power with vocal …

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Barber of Seville, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2016

This is the first of a trio of operas — along with The Marriage of Figaro, and a new opera called Figaro’s Divorce — from Welsh National Opera for Spring 2016, all co-productions with the Grand Théâtre de Genève, where they will appear later. Continuity between the three is provided by the design team, which …

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The Magic Flute, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2016.

English National Opera’s outreach to a younger and wider audience is well served by Simon McBurney’s (Complicite Theatre) production, first shown in 2013. Purists may object to the numerous theatrical innovations, but on the other hand this opera was originally conceived as a Singspiel, in other words a play with music, and its librettist Emanuel …

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The Devil Inside, Music Theatre Wales, Peacock Theatre, February 2016

This excellent collaboration between composer Stuart MacRae and novelist Louise Welsh brings to life Robert Louis Stephenson’s tale The Bottle Imp, about a demon trapped in a bottle. He will grant your every wish, but there is a catch. Anyone owning the bottle at death is condemned to eternal damnation, and an owner can only …

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Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, December 2015

In February 2013 this was Kasper Holten’s first new production after being appointed opera director, and it is ironic that this revival occurs less than two weeks after he handed in his notice. It is now a co-production with Turin and Opera Australia, and has undergone changes. There is slightly less use of the dreadful …

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Cavalleria rusticana and I Pagliacci, Cav and Pag, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, December 2015.

Damiano Michieletto’s production of Rossini’s William Tell in June this year was widely panned, so I awaited his new production of Cav and Pag with some apprehension. I need not have. The gritty realism of Giovanni Verga’s 1880 short story Cavalleria Rusticana, later made into a play and taken up by the young composer Pietro …

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Morgan und Abend, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2015

In many operas we are watching life, yet see death. In this one we are watching death, yet see life — a remarkable turnaround facilitated by a fantastic match between music and libretto. Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas draws on the avant garde tradition of his homeland in producing a musical language that uses microtones …

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The Force of Destiny, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2015

The unusually abstract title of this mature yet seldom-performed Verdi opera could be rephrased as ‘the force of anger’. The Marquis of Calatrava’s ferocity at his daughter Leonora’s choice of husband leads to his accidental death, and his son Don Carlo’s furiously determined revenge leads to his own death and that of his sister. “Vengeance …

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Das Liebesverbot, in concert, Chelsea Opera Group, Cadogan Hall, 25 October 2015

This boisterous, comic opera by the 22-year-old Wagner was entirely outside his subsequent metier, and very different from his first opera Die Feen, completed a year earlier. It is also his only one based on a Shakespeare play, in this case the aptly named Measure for Measure — judge not lest ye be judged. The …

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La Bohème, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2015

Bohemia in Murger’s Scènes de la vie de bohème is a state of mind, rather than a Central European province, so setting it in modern times rather than mid-nineteenth century Paris could work very well. But Benedict Andrews, who made his name as a theatre and film director, has created a staging that seems to …

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Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, October 2015

Wow! This riveting performance under the baton of Lothar Koenigs gave Strauss’s music just the cheery insouciance and serious emotional depth it needs. And with Karita Mattila, Ruxandra Donose and Jane Archibald repeating the roles of Ariadne, Composer and Zerbinetta from summer 2014 it was a vocal and theatrical treat. How absurd that there are …

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The Tales of Hoffmann, English Touring Opera, ETO, Britten Theatre, RCM, October 2015

Offenbach’s greatest work, which he regarded as a last chance for recognition as a composer of serious opera, remained incomplete at his death in autumn 1880. Its main character Hoffmann — jurist, composer, critic, cartoonist, and author of fantastic tales that form the basis for Nutcracker, Coppelia and Schumann’s Kreisleriana — himself became a character …

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Meistersinger, Staatsoper Berlin, October 2015

Although the three acts of Meistersinger – Wagner’s 1868 opera about the tussle between creativity and convention – are normally performed on a single evening, this was an exception. The opening night of Andrea Moses’ new production saw only the first two acts, with the third following next day. My review appeared in the Telegraph, …

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The Barber of Seville, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2015

That this charmingly witty Jonathan Miller production is now in its twelfth revival speaks to its huge success, and once again we had the inimitable Andrew Shore as Dr Bartolo. His mixture of firm authority and bumbling over-enthusiasm, as when he gets his pince-nez caught in the harpsichord, was brilliantly conveyed, and this beautifully revived …

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Orlando, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, September 2015

In Ariosto’s early sixteenth century epic poem Orlando Furioso (Frenzied Roland) that forms the basis for this opera, Orlando was one of the foremost warriors in Charlemagne’s court. Torn between his love for Angelica and his duty to go to war he has a nervous breakdown. In the meantime Angelica’s love has turned to the …

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Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2015

A woman trapped in comfortable domestic surroundings, while her husband’s busy world goes on all around, takes a lover. Her actions and emotions spiral out of control, her once luxurious bedroom vanishes and she ends up in a prison cell — such is the setting well realised by director Dmitri Tcherniakov … apart from the …

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Orphée et Eurydice, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, ROH, September 2015

It seems the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is flavour of the year. Monteverdi’s Orfeo appeared at the Roundhouse in January in an artless staging by the Royal Opera, before the BBC Proms gave it a beautifully elegant semi-staging under John Eliot Gardiner this summer. Now it’s the Royal Opera’s turn to succeed, this time …

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Abduction from the Seraglio, BBC Proms, Prom 38, Albert Hall, RAH, 14 August 2015

When the performance began I wondered whether Glyndebourne had made the right decision in bringing Seraglio to the Proms, as opposed to one of their other new productions such as Donizetti’s Poliuto or Handel’s Saul, which would have sounded well in the Albert Hall. Mozart’s Seraglio, performed in Glyndebourne under its original title Die Entführung …

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Orfeo, BBC Proms, Prom 25, August 2015

Monteverdi’s Orfeo is a triumph of harmony, both musically and in the Classical lines of its dramatic construction. This Proms performance too was a triumph, sidelining the artless production put on by the Royal Opera at the Roundhouse in January. First composed in 1607 for the Gonzaga court at Mantua where Monteverdi was director of …

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Saul, Glyndebourne, GFO, July 2015

When Handel first produced this oratorio in 1738 the audience would have been completely au fait with the Biblical story of Saul, the king of a people previously presided over by judges and prophets such as Samuel, who anointed him as their first king. He also anointed David as his successor, but in the oratorio …

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Tristan und Isolde, Bayreuth, July 2015

Stakes were high for this 150th anniversary production of Tristan und Isolde, so little wonder that with her contract up for renewal, Festival director Katharina Wagner took the task of shaping it upon herself. My review appeared in the Telegraph, 27 July 2015

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Lohengrin, Bayreuth Festival, July 2015

Following the hugely successful season opener of Tristan und Isolde the previous night — see my review in the Telegraph — it was a pleasure once again to see Hans Neuenfels’ 2010 production of Lohengrin, now on its final lap before leaving the repertoire. With the folk of Brabant represented as rats and mice, along …

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Lakmé, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2015

This Delibes opera about the days of the Raj, when a British officer falls in love with the daughter of a Brahmin priest, expresses a late nineteenth and early twentieth century fascination with exotic locales — think Pearl Fishers and Madama Butterfly — and like Butterfly is based on a work by French novelist and …

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Lucia di Lammermoor, Buxton Festival, July 2015

This interestingly minimalist production by theatre director Stephen Unwin sets the story in the 1940s with mafia overtones, particularly notable in the figure of Enrico’s retainer Normanno (Richard Roberts) a sleazy chain-smoker, tie-less and wearing a hat indoors even during the Act II wedding scene. ‘Tis he who writes the forged letter from Lucia’s beloved …

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Giovanna d’Arco, Buxton Festival, July 2015

This Verdi opera, like Rossini’s William Tell, is originally based on a play by Schiller that deals with a central heroic figure who rallies people and fighting men against an occupying force. Comparing mature Rossini to early Verdi one might expect the Rossini to win easily, yet by contrast with the Royal Opera’s current clunky …

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Aida, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2015

For the fourth performance on July 4, the orchestra under Manlio Benzi produced a thrilling and vivid account of Verdi’s score, helped by excellent singing and a colourful and imaginative production. It starts with a black-tie cocktail party in a gallery of Egyptian antiquities, and director Daniel Slater takes a delightfully tongue-in-cheek attitude to Acts …

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Guillaume Tell, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, June 2015

After the superb Proms concert performance of this opera four years ago, under Pappano with some of the same cast, this keenly anticipated new production fell sadly short. A black-clad SWAT team with machine guns, lighting from stage rear that glares out at the audience, on-stage characters not in the drama — seen it all before. …

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Samson et Delila, Grange Park Opera, GPO, June 2015

Chutzpah is the word for Grange Park this summer. First they manage to attract Bryn Terfel to the main role in Fiddler on the Roof, then they decide to take on Samson et Delila, which requires first rate singers in both main roles and is a difficult opera to stage. This is perhaps why director …

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La Bohème, Grange Park Opera, GPO, June 2015

There seem to have been a plethora of Bohèmes recently. The one by English Touring Opera last autumn shows a performance can tug unbearably on the heart-strings accompanied by only the simplest of sets, and the final run of John Copley’s Covent Garden production shows that even with the most glorious sets and world’s top …

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Tristan und Isolde, Longborough, LFO, June 2015

This opera opened in Munich on 10 June 1865, so the Longborough production is very much a sesqui-centenary. And LFO did it proud with a dramatically intense performance of this “most musical of Wagner’s works” under the baton of Anthony Negus, who conducted the Ring here two years ago. As soon as the first bars …

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Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Glyndebourne, GFO, June 2015

For a summer evening in a relatively intimate theatre this Mozart Singspiel, making its 197th performance at Glyndebourne, is perfect. Yet the production by David McVicar is entirely new. Sensitive and stylish, with excellent designs by Vicki Mortimer, beautifully lit by Paule Constable, it brings out the strong points and charming absurdities of this engaging …

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Il Trittico, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2015

A terrific evening and superb start to Opera Holland Park’s 2015 season. Neil Irish’s designs were excellent, particularly for Il Tabarro in Martin Lloyd-Evans production where weary stevedores and noises of the quayside set the evening in motion. As captain of the barge, Stephen Gadd’s calm tension and eventual exasperation, as he pleads with his …

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Queen of Spades, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2015

The moment the orchestra plunged into Tchaikovsky’s overture they promised a superb reading of the score under the baton of Ed Gardner, and we were treated to a musical performance full of energy, tension and passion. One only regrets that this was Gardner’s last opera as music director for the ENO before taking over as …

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Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera, June 2015

Rising anti-Semitism in Europe makes an excellent time for Grange Park to stage this story that ends with the forced abandonment of a Jewish stetl in Imperial Russia. There in the Pale of Settlement where permanent residency of Jews was allowed, life could be hard, balanced precariously like a fiddler on the roof. And if …

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La Bohème, Calleja and Netrebko, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, May 2015

John Copley’s 1974 production of La Bohème — the longest-running in the Royal Opera’s repertoire — has been 41 years with the Company, and this farewell run is the last chance to see those glorious period sets by Julia Trevelyan Oman. Sad, but at least the ROH is giving it a great send-off by starting …

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Poliuto, Glyndebourne, GFO, May 2015

Composed for Naples in 1838, but banned because of the subject matter, it took another ten years before a production of the original was mounted in Italy, just a few months after Donizetti’s death. In the meantime Paris had taken it on as a grand opera under the title Les Martyrs, with a new text …

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Carmen, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2015

The energy and insight of Richard Armstrong’s conducting carries all before it in this revival of Calixto Bieito’s production, first seen two and a half years ago. That and the excellent portrayal of Don José by American tenor Eric Cutler, whose voice and stage presence carry a nobility at odds with the rough machismo of …

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Pirates of Penzance, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2015

On opening night the Coliseum was packed to the rafters for this new production, with the ENO already having scheduled two extra performances. The pre-performance enthusiasm was well judged because director Mike Leigh, who made that wonderful film Topsy-Turvy about Gilbert and Sullivan, has given us a production that is fun without sentimentality or camp …

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Shackleton’s Cat, English Touring Opera, ETO, May 2015

Opera — an elitist art form? You must be joking. This was real opera presented to children from three South London primary schools, and performed at Shackleton’s old school, Dulwich College. No tragic love affair this, but a new opera commissioned by the ETO and performed in a way that really appealed to the young …

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Król Roger, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, May 2015

Apollo versus Dionysus — Apollonian/Dionysian dualism — so central to this remarkable work, is brilliantly exposed in Kasper Holten’s intriguing and highly inventive production, the first ever at Covent Garden. He also brings out Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s homoerotic yearnings, using ostensibly naked male dancers. A standard production might use the composer’s imagined settings of …

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Between Worlds, English National Opera, ENO, Barbican, April 2015

This opera, ostensibly about the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, is really about what happens when people are suddenly caught between life and death, with only a tenuous connection to their loved ones in the world outside. This is reflected in Michael Levine’s set design for Deborah Warner’s production. The …

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Il Turco in Italia, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2015

Huge fun — and springtime is just the right time to revive this stylish and colourfully stylized production by Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier. Its previous outing in 2010 was also in Spring, the four main principals being the same as today: Thomas Allen as poet and opera librettist Prosdocimo, Alessandro Corbelli as the cuckolded …

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Tannhäuser, Staatsoper Berlin, April 2015

Having dancers in the Venusberg scene of Tannhäuser is quite normal, but dance company director Sasha Waltz, who created this opera production, took their use too far. It is fine up to a point to include dancers among the wonderful chorus of pilgrims, but by the second half of Act II they were getting in …

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Parsifal, Staatsoper Berlin, March 2015

Wagner’s Parsifal is about redemption and renewal, but this new production by Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov adds a jarring note — revenge. My review appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

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Amadis de Gaule, UCL Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2015

In 65 years of UCL Opera productions this is the first work of Bach, the ‘English’ Bach — Johann Christian (1735–1782) — a son of Johann Sebastian by his second marriage. His three-act libretto was based on an earlier five-act one by Philippe Quinault for the French composer Lully, which in turn was based on …

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La Bohème, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2015

This new ETO production boasts a terrific Rodolfo in David Butt Philip, who sang the same role to critical acclaim for the English National Opera last autumn. This time his more relaxed attitude allowed a fine interaction with the excellent Mimi of Russian soprano Ilona Domnich, and in their Act I meeting the eloquent message …

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The Wild Man of the West Indies, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2015

This opera, mixing tragic and comic elements, has a Shakespearean tinge in the relationship of its main character Cardenio to a local slave named Kaidamà, like King Lear and his fool, though the ending is pure Donizetti. The back-story is that the unfaithfulness of Cardenio’s wife Eleonora — with his brother Fernando to boot — …

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The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, March 2015.

This is not an easy work to stage, emerging as it does from two slightly incompatible attitudes, by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, as to its eventual form. Its genesis lay in a series of songs — the Mahagonny Gesänge — published by Brecht in April 1927, which inspired Weill to fulfil a commission he …

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The Siege of Calais, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2015

Donizetti had once hoped to make his entry to Paris with this opera, but it was not to be. The weakness was Act III, wisely cut by James Conway in this production, leaving us with the departure of six burghers from Calais being sent to their deaths on the command of England’s king Edward III, …

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The Indian Queen, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2015

This opera, or rather semi-opera (entertainment combining acting, singing and dance), was not really complete when Purcell died in 1695. Though it had already been performed, the loss of the Company’s main dramaturge and many of its singers compromised the result. Not therefore in the state that the composer would wish, and rather than attempt …

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The Magic Flute, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2015

The remarkable freshness of Dominic Cooke’s 2005 production is superbly complemented by Lothar Koenigs’ conducting. He invested the overture with tremendous dramatic energy and as the opera developed fully brought out its theatrical side. Theatrical it is indeed, its librettist Schikaneder having created it for his own suburban vaudeville theatre rather than an opera house, …

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La Traviata, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2015

hooAt the start of this production there is nothing on stage but a plain chair, and in the final scene, isolated from Annina, Dr. Grenvil, Germont, and even Alfredo, who leaves the stage to join the others in the auditorium, Violetta sits on it, alone. Finally she recedes into darkness beyond the back of the …

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The Mastersingers of Nuremberg, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2015

Although one of the greatest operas ever written, it is not unknown for directors and conductors to make a mess of it, even at Wagner’s own temple in Bayreuth, but not at the ENO, thank God! This resounding success throws down the gauntlet to those Beckmessers in the Arts Council who not only mark down …

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Andrea Chenier, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, January 2015

In an entirely unexpected coincidence this new production of an opera about the 1794 French Reign of Terror had its first night less than two weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris. I refer to the execution of journalists at Charlie Hebdo who, like the real André Chenier, transformed their pens into sharp weapons against …

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The Merry Widow, Metropolitan Opera, HD live cinema relay, January 17, 2015

The year 1905 saw the first production of Richard Strauss’s Salome, an opera that remains as dramatically shocking now as it did then, and Franz Lehar’s Merry Widow, an operetta that remains one of the very finest ever written. Congratulations to the Met for getting five-time Tony Award Winner Susan Stroman to put on this …

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Orfeo, Royal Opera, Roundhouse, January 2015

In Spring last year at the new Sam Wanamaker Theatre the Royal Opera put on Cavalli’s L’Ormindo, one of the earliest operas ever performed in a public opera house (the San Cassiano in Venice). This year they have reached further back to 1607, a time before public opera houses existed, performing Monteverdi’s Orfeo at Camden …

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Un Ballo in Maschera, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, December 2014.

This new Ballo by German director Katharina Thoma is a co-production with Dortmund where it had its premiere in September. The Germans, who display a fondness for Regie-Theater, criticized it for timidity and bowing to the dull tastes of a Royal Opera House audience where tourists expect something simple. Such a misunderstanding of the Covent …

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Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, December 2014

Does Tristan know Isolde intends to kill him with the drink in Act I? No doubt at all in Christof Loy’s production where both of them lie down to die. But though Isolde sings of hatred, the orchestra carries the truth — love — and Mr. Loy, concerned that the emotional content of the stage action …

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The Gospel According to the Other Mary, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2014

The ‘Other Mary’ in John Adams’ new work is Mary Magdalene, along with her sister Martha and their brother Lazarus, who work to help the poor and disenfranchised in mid-1970s America. To many in an English audience the name César Chávez, co-founder of what became the United Farm Workers Union, may not be well known. Beloved …

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L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2014

With Lucy Crowe, Vittorio Grigolo and Bryn Terfel this was quite a cast, and under revival director Daniel Dooner they made the most of Laurent Pelly’s delightful production. In Act I the bikes, the dog, the funny swaying movements of the chorus, and the tiny version of Dulcamara’s van at the end all add colour, …

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Idomeneo, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2014

The story of a man who promises to sacrifice the first person he meets on his safe return home, if only the god will rescue him, was imported to Greece from the Ancient Near East. It appears for instance in the Biblical story of Jephthah who made such a vow in order to defeat the …

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La Bohème, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2014

This excellent Jonathan Miller production with its bifurcated set, easily manoeuvred into three different sets, was graced with the beautiful voice of Angel Blue as Mimi. More on her later, but in the meantime the rest of the cast produced fine singing and for the most part vivid portrayals of their roles. George von Bergen …

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La scala di seta, Royal Opera Young Artists, ROH Linbury Studio, October 2014

First produced in Venice when Rossini was just 20, this comic farce is a little gem. Its quality is sometimes called into question by a story that the impresario who commissioned it served the young composer with a poor libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa to which Rossini responded with slapdash music. Whatever the truth of …

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Life on the Moon, English Touring Opera, ETO, October 2014

This is all huge fun and the packed audience at London’s Hackney Empire clearly loved the staging of this Haydn opera by comedy specialist Cal McCrystal. The plot is simple; a wealthy but miserly widower named Buonafede (good faith), superbly sung by Andrew Slater, is tricked into giving dowries to his daughter and his maid …

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The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2014

The revival of this ENO production had its first night on the 221st anniversary of the death of Marie-Antoinette, the first queen to perform in the original play by Beaumarchais. This was at her private house in Versailles, and the king then banned public performances, until in 1784 it opened at the Comédie Française in …

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I due Foscari, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, October 2014

Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, and at the end of this opera, Loredano, one of the Venetian decemviri (ten men who govern Venice) gladly consumes the knowledge that the two Foscari are dead. Noble men both, gone to their graves in agony. Placido Domingo showed the anguish of the elder Foscari — Doge …

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The Trial, Music Theatre Wales, Linbury Studio, ROH, October 2014

In Kafka’s novel The Trial an ordinary intelligent man is caught up in a process to which he earnestly hopes he can find a clear end, and this musical realisation by Philip Glass, with a libretto by Christopher Hampton, captures the comedy and close observation of the original. There could, I suppose, be a temptation …

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Moses in Egypt, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, October 2014

Congratulations to WNO for staging a Rossini masterpiece that in its day “marked the final and complete emancipation of the bass singer … for the purposes of opera seria” (Francis Toye). Hitherto it had been conventional to restrict important bass roles to opera buffa, but here both Moses and Pharaoh are basses. The sacred theme …

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The Girl of the Golden West, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2014

The ENO deserve to score a big hit with this new Richard Jones production of Fanciulla. Three acts, each with its own gloriously simple set by Miriam Buether, along with costumes by Nicky Gillibrand, evoked the quintessential clarity of the American far west. Jones drew superb acting from the large cast, and Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn …

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Rigoletto, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2014

Is it not time the Royal Opera House abandoned David McVicar’s 2001 production? The fake licentiousness of the first scene may be huge fun for the supers and for movement and revival director Leah Hausman, but it detracts from the drama and spoils the music, which at times becomes mere background to unmusical whoops and …

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Xerxes, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2014

This sixth ENO revival of Handel’s late opera Xerxes (aka Serse) is a testament to the huge charms of Nicholas Hytner’s 1985 production, which presents the complex story of amorous intrigues in a Persian court with glorious clarity. Elegant, even stunning, costumes for the main characters contrast with drab for the courtiers and striking black …

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Otello, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2014

After the end of a terrific performance, director David Alden was presented with two gifts to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his work with the ENO, whom he extolled as his favourite opera company in the world. That they work so well together is amply illustrated in this production whose huge enclosing set allows the stage …

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William Tell, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, September 2014

For the first Milan production of this opera, after its earlier première in Paris, there was predictable trouble with the Austrian authorities. The scene with the apple was cut, the oppressors became the English, and Tell was William Wallace. How appropriate then that the WNO have given the first performance of David Pountney’s new production …

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Elektra, BBC Prom 59, Royal Albert Hall, RAH, 31 August 2014

Who needs an opera house for Elektra? Justin Way’s staging allowed plenty of space for interactions between the singers, and there was none of that dark lighting and seediness so beloved by directors of this opera. On the contrary, the house lights brightened suddenly on the first bar of music, and again at the end …

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Salome, BBC Prom 58, Royal Albert Hall, RAH, 30 August 2014

How many people know that London and Berlin are twin cities? I didn’t, but it helps explain why Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle came to the Proms with the Ring last year, and Runnicles and Berlin’s Deutsche Opera with Salome this year. Yet it was more than just the city of Berlin that was common …

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Adriana Lecouvreur, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2014

When an opera detractor points to a high quality of music being unmatched by the libretto they can hardly have a better example than Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur. Conducted with verve and sympathy by Manlio Benzi this fin-de-siècle outpouring of dramatic harmony makes for a wonderful evening, but the impenetrable story about love, jealousy, dissimulation, political …

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Norma, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2014

Why is this glorious bel canto opera not performed more often? The reason is surely that one needs a terrific Norma, and Opera Holland Park produced one. Yvonne Howard was superb, and with Heather Shipp as Adalgisa these are performances not to be missed. Their duet towards the end of Act I when Adalgisa comes …

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Pincher Martin, Royal College of Music, RCM, July 2014

This remarkable one-act opera by Oliver Rudland is based on William Golding’s third novel Pincher Martin. A drowning naval officer whose ship was torpedoed survives on a rocky island in the North Atlantic, with rainwater to drink and shell fish to eat. He intends to survive … or so it seems, and this meditation on …

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Der Rosenkavalier, BBC Proms, Albert Hall, RAH, July 2014

After all that kerfuffle about Octavian at the opening night of Glyndebourne’s new Rosenkavalier it was a pleasure to see this concert performance and confirm two things. Glyndebourne was absolutely right to choose Tara Erraught for the role, and while I blamed director Richard Jones for the ill-fitting clothing on opening night (see my review) …

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La Traviata, Glyndebourne, GFO, July 2014

A careful attention to musical detail renders this new, fairly minimalist production of Traviata by Tom Cairns extremely effective, helped enormously by the stunning performance of Venera Gimadieva as Violetta. Her softness and richness of tone reminded me of Ileana Cotrubas as she subtly brought Violetta’s multi-faceted character into play. In Act I after an introspective and …

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Orfeo ed Euridice, Buxton Opera Festival, July 2014

For Gluck’s tercentenary Buxton has produced his Orfeo ed Euridice (the 1762 Italian version) to counterbalance Dvořak’s delightful Jacobin. It is a good match: Dvořak was a Czech composer, but so in a sense was Gluck, who was brought up in Bohemia and studied mathematics and logic at the University of Prague. This opera was a …

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The Jacobin, Buxton Opera Festival, July 2014

The Jacobins were the hard-core French revolutionaries who inspired the Reign of Terror, and in this Dvořak opera the Count has been persuaded that his son Bohuš has become a Jacobin. Correcting this calumny and persuading the Count he has been misled appears to recede into the distance towards the end … yet suddenly the …

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Maria Stuarda, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2014

In forty to fifty years time young audience members may take pride in saying they once saw Joyce DiDonato as Maria Stuarda. She was sensational, and when it was over and the curtain rose to reveal her centre stage, the thunderous applause was followed by huge cheers for other cast members until the production team …

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Turn of the Screw, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2014

All performances start at 8 o’clock, and for good reason. The month is July and Act II emerges as the outside light gradually dims. In early Act I with daylight outside, Miles goes to a large blackboard on one side of the stage and draws the outline of what looks like a door. In the darker …

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La Finta Giardiniera, Glyndebourne, June 2014

Pretending is what Finta is all about — the title itself means The Pretend Gardener — but too much pretence can make you can lose your way, which is exactly what happens here. The separated lovers, Sandrina (aka La Marchesa Violante Onesti) and Count Belfiore have to find themselves and one another before they can …

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Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2014

Returning to direct this second revival of his 2002 production, Christof Loy gave us an Act I that presented the young composer in far better form than the first revival of 2008. Beautifully and strongly sung by Ruxandra Donose, he (she) showed fire in the belly, and frustration with the philistines around him. It was …

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Don Quichotte, Grange Park Opera, June 2014

In the much-performed Don Quixote ballet (music by Minkus) the Don sees his fantasy Dulcinée as one of a pair of young lovers whom he gracefully helps bring together, and they are the main characters. But in this late Massenet opera the main character is the noble yet delusional Don himself, with Dulcinée as a …

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Die Liebe der Danae, in concert, Frankfurt Opera, June 2014

Richard Strauss’s last major (three-act) opera, completed in 1940 was not given a public performance until 1952, three years after his death, though a private dress rehearsal was arranged in 1944. It is little performed — but why? The music is wonderful, particularly the remarkable Act III with its sublime orchestral interlude, “Jupiter’s Resignation”. And …

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Manon Lescaut, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2014

The coldness of Jonathan Kent’s new production, and the barrage of boos greeting the creative team at the curtain calls, contrasted with the huge warmth of the singing and conducting. Antonio Pappano, who has claimed this to be his favourite Puccini opera, fully brought out the vividness and emotion of the composer’s first major success. The …

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The Pearl Fishers, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2014

Penny Woolcock’s stunning production of Pearl Fishers, with its gloriously ramshackle sets, blaze of South Indian colour, and views of pearl divers sweeping through the clear blue waters, first appeared four years ago. She has now returned to direct this revival, which is superior to the original in terms of vocal performances. This time Sophie …

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Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2014

Rossini’s Barber is always fun, and Oliver Platt’s new production for Opera Holland Park gives it a nineteenth century London touch, complete with lamplighters, Bow Street Runners and a drunken sot who claims his shilling as if he were one of the street musicians. The designs by Neil Irish work very well in this context and I …

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Benvenuto Cellini, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2014

What fun this was! Terry Gilliam has done it again, following his opera directing debut with The Damnation of Faust in 2011. Mr. Gilliam’s earlier success was with a later Berlioz opera, and he has now turned to the composer’s first with a story involving the mad genius Benvenuto Cellini, Pope Clement VII and his …

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La Fanciulla del West, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2014

The 2014 opera season at Holland Park started off with a bang — a terrific production of Puccini’s Fanciulla. During the overture the stage fills with soldiers viewing an atomic explosion in the Mojave desert, reflecting the setting in California, albeit a century later than the time of the gold rush in the original, and …

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Dialogues des Carmélites, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2014

Premiered at the Netherlands Opera in 1997, Robert Carsen’s award winning production has done the rounds before making its London debut as the first Carmélites at the ROH since 1983. Aesthetically abstract, it uses clever lighting on an open stage, and the vast number of chorus and extras emphasise the mass psychology underpinning the reign …

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Moses und Aron, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, May 2014

This extraordinary opera by Arnold Schoenberg remained unfinished at his death in 1951, though he wrote the music for the first two acts already in the period 1930–32. The incompleteness is emphasised by Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito’s WNO production (imported from Stuttgart), by beginning and ending both acts without clear boundaries. At the start …

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Eugene Onegin, Glyndebourne, May 2014

A revival of Graham Vick’s successful Onegin production opened the second night of the Glyndebourne season, with the London Philharmonic under the very capable baton of Israeli conductor Omer Meir Wellber playing with energy and passion. In the first two acts the Lensky of Edgaras Montvidas stole the show. Partly trained in the Royal Opera’s …

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Der Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne, May 2014

Glyndebourne’s 80th anniversary festival, dedicated to the late Sir George Christie, son of the founder and the man who built the present opera house, opened just ten days after his death. His son Gus came onstage at the start to offer a tribute to his ‘dear old Dad’, and in honour of the 150th anniversary …

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Così fan tutte, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2014

In this new co-production with the Met in New York, English National Opera has a winner. During the overture a dozen circus performers (strongman, bearded lady, sword swallower, dwarves et al) emerge from a chest and are a continuous background presence, reminding me of the Commedia del Arte figures in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. Each …

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La Cenerentola, Metropolitan Opera, Metopera live cinema relay, 10 May 2014

For those who tend to go to first nights, an advantage of these Met cinema screenings is the welcome unity they provide between conductor and singers who have already performed on stage several times together. Under the baton of Fabio Luisi the singers were very much at one with the orchestra, providing Rossini’s music with …

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La Traviata, with Pérez, Costello, Keenlyside, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2014

Nothing could take away from the stunning performance of Ailyn Pérez as Violetta — not the Royal Opera House gremlins that turned the house lights on and off again during her final aria in Act II, nor the management that failed to provide flowers for the curtain calls. This was magic, the first of four …

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Thebans, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2014

For his first opera, composer Julian Anderson demonstrates huge chutzpah in combining Sophocles’ three Theban plays (Oedipus the King/ Oedipus at Colonus/ Antigone) into a single evening of opera. The plays were not written in the chronological order of their events, and nor does Anderson take them in that order, ending with Colonus, written shortly …

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Le Nozze di Figaro, with Esposito, Evans, Finley, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2014

In this latest revival of David McVicar’s 2006 production, Gerald Finley’s beautifully nuanced and stylish performance of the Count was a joy to behold. Full of restrained power, his premonition of success with Susanna expressed by the recitative and aria early in Act III showed a man in huge command of his household, only of …

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Faust, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2014

With only a few weeks to go before opening night, Anna Netrebko pulled out from the role of Marguerite, but we need not have worried. Her replacement, 32-year old Bulgarian soprano Sonya Yoncheva, due to sing the same role at the Vienna State Opera next month, more than made up for the loss. She brought …

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L’Ormindo, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London, March 2014

The last time the Royal Opera House put on a Cavalli opera was in autumn 2008 with an elaborate post-modern take on La Calisto. This time the emphasis is on authenticity, and the star of the show is the new small and intimate Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a candlelit auditorium recently attached to the Globe Theatre. …

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The Snowmaiden, University College Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2014

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Snowmaiden: A Spring Fairy Tale, like many Russian operas, is a series of tableaux, brilliantly realised here in a production by Christopher Cowell. The simple yet highly effective designs by Bridget Kimak, atmospherically lit by Jake Wiltshire, gave a magical quality to the world of the Berendeyans, who have been in the grip of …

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Die Frau ohne Schatten, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2014

Frau ohne Schatten is Richard Strauss’s Magic Flute, where two couples on different levels undergo severe trials before man and woman truly find one another. Like Flute there are tripartite divisions, but rather than analyse Hofmannsthal’s mysterious story, as modified by and interpreted in Strauss’s extraordinary score, let us turn to this production by German …

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Magic Flute, English Touring Opera, ETO, March 2014

Producing Mozart’s Magic Flute can be tricky for a touring company, but ETO rises magnificently to the challenge. The contrast between the serious, sombre realm of Sarastro, the lightheartedness of Papageno, the threatening nature of the Queen of the Night’s world, and the magic that brings two couples together is well expressed in a single …

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Prince Igor, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, March 2014

This opera is about a Russian defeat by the Polovtsians, followed by the redemption of the Russian leader Igor, and the prospect of a future renewal. The Polovtsians were nomadic pastoralists and masters of the south Russian steppes. Also known as Kumans or Kipchaks, they were a Turkic tribal federation occupying lands stretching from the …

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Boulevard Solitude, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2014

The working title for this opera, when Henze started work on it in 1950, was Manon Lescaut, heavily influenced as it was by Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1949 movie Manon set in wartime Paris. Both are ultimately based on the Abbé Prevost’s eighteenth century novella, and the WNO staging is by the same director and stage designer, …

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Paul Bunyan, English Touring Opera, ETO, Linbury Studio, ROH, February 2014

Paul Bunyan was a legendary folk hero in nineteenth century America, a lumberjack of mythical size and strength. The myth may have started with a French Canadian, Paul Bunyon, who led fellow loggers in a rebellion against British troops in 1837, but whatever the origin, stories told around campfires enhanced his size to gigantic proportions, …

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King Priam, English Touring Opera, ETO, Linbury Studio, ROH, February 2014

This opera is all over in two and half hours including an interval, which is extraordinary because the story is HUGE. This is the Trojan War, told from the perspective of Troy. Act I gives us the background, starting with King Priam’s dilemma on whether to let his baby son Paris live, or have him …

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Rigoletto, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2014

The original Victor Hugo play (Le roi s’amuse) that underlies Verdi’s Rigoletto takes place in the sixteenth century French court of François I. This touch of lèse majesté made the censors reject it, and the action was eventually transferred to Mantua with the King as a Duke, but the main point is that he has …

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Manon Lescaut, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, February 2014

Who is Manon? At the end of this production, Des Grieux’s confusion is represented by two identical versions of her on stage, elegantly dressed in black raincoat and high heels. The bleak plains of Louisiana are absent, replaced by what is a running theme in this staging — the modern world of airports and train …

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Don Giovanni, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2014

After his controversial Eugene Onegin in February last year, Kasper Holten has come out with a corker. This intriguing new production ends with Giovanni, a man defined by his conquests and interactions with others, condemned to the hell of being alone. The set went slowly blank as the writing on the walls disappeared, the auditorium …

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Peter Grimes, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, January 2014

My lingering impression from this unusual David Alden production is of Grimes as one of the few sane people in the town. In Act III the choreographed actions of the townspeople make them look like a mad Greek chorus celebrating some Dionysian rite, and when they sing Peter Grimes! at the tops of their voices …

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Katja Kabanova, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, Berlin, January 2014

At the end of this post-apocalyptic vision of the opera, when Katya sings how quiet and beautiful everything is she is standing by a bathtub. Suddenly as the men sing that a woman has thrown herself into the water, she gets into the tub, slits her wrists and dies. The singers look out at the …

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Falstaff, Metropolitan Opera, live cinema relay, December 2013

On stage at Covent Garden last year, Robert Carsen’s new production showed Falstaff on a horse in Act III, and though I missed that on the Met cinema screening the comedy seemed more natural than in London. There was an appearance of spontaneity, with the performers playing the whole thing in a rambunctiously convincing way, …

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Satyagraha, English National Opera, London Coliseum, December 2013

The performance on 6th December 2013 was a special occasion, quite unplanned. Philip Glass’s paean to the peaceful revolution embodied by Mahatma Gandhi, with its allusions to Martin Luther King, whose back-view we see in Act III, speaking on a podium, was preceded by a commemoration for Nelson Mandela, who had died just 24 hours …

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Parsifal, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, November 2013

The Royal Opera House’s choice for Wagner’s bicentenary is a new production of Parsifal by director Stephen Langridge and designer Alison Chitty, the same team who gave us Birtwistle’s Minotaur five years ago. Here they achieved similar dramatic clarity using a Cube, which changes from opaque to translucent to open, partly to illustrate scenes from …

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Magic Flute, English National Opera, London Coliseum, November 2013

A new production of Mozart’s Magic Flute should be judged largely by how well it illuminates this extraordinary story. But that aside, Simon McBurney’s production is full of theatrical innovations. On stage right there is a small booth for a production assistant to write on a chalk-board, and arrange books in a way that is …

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Wozzeck, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, November 2013

October 2013 is the bicentenary of Georg Büchner, whose play Woyzeck is the basis for Berg’s opera. The play is sparely written, and after a few cuts and slight rearrangement of scenes, Berg produced an opera of striking power and musical invention. It is not an easy task for the singers, with its four different …

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Les Vêpres Siciliennes, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2013

For this opera, Verdi was presented with a script by Eugène Scribe, who simply modified an old libretto for Donizetti. The new Verdi opera was supposed to be based on the Sicilian uprising against French rule in 1282, whereas the earlier libretto (Le duc d’Albe) for Donizetti was based on events in 1573 when the …

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Madam Butterfly, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2013

Puccini’s Madam Butterfly may not be my favourite opera, but this Anthony Minghella production is magical. The silent pulling of a rope to raise a screen before the start, and then the mime that pre-signifies the trapped Butterfly at the end, opens us to a world different from our own. In Act I the extraordinarily …

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Die Fledermaus, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2013

This new production is by Christopher Alden, twin brother of David Alden whose many successful ENO works include the present, very successful Peter Grimes production, being revived in Jan/Feb 2014. By contrast, Christopher’s Fledermaus production, which I was not able to see on the first night, attracted very negative reviews and during the interval I …

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Jason, English Touring Opera, ETO, Britten Theatre, RCM, October 2013

This Cavalli opera, Giasone in Italian, was followed a couple of years later by La Calisto, which the Royal Opera produced for the first time in autumn 2008. Both feature characters from classical mythology engaging in emotional and sexual liaisons, which somehow manage to end in harmony after complications and frustrations attendant on the rambunctious …

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Roberto Devereux, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, October 2013

Roberto Devereux formed a stirring finale to WNO’s three Donizetti operas about queens from the Tudor period. The strong cast included Leonardo Capalbo as Devereux, who sang the same role when Holland Park performed this opera in summer 2009, and his Act I duets with Elizabeth, the Duke of Nottingham, and Nottingham’s wife Sarah were …

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Fidelio, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2013

Fidelio is far from my favourite opera, so for me the novelty of this new staging was a welcome departure from the usual dreary prison. Catalan director Calixto Bieito has instead placed the events in a modern setting of steel and glass, the prisoners being so-to-speak trapped in offices where they spend most of their …

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Elektra, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2013

For this revival of Elektra, in Charles Edwards blood soaked production (previously seen in 2003 and 2008), the orchestra produced terrific emotional power under the direction of Andris Nelsons. They played with huge conviction, and the cast sang superbly, none more so than Adrianne Pieczonka as Chrysothemis. From her first entrance to the final words …

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Maria Stuarda, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, September 2013

In Schiller’s play Maria Stuart, the original drama for this Donizetti opera, Elizabeth I meets Mary Queen of Scots. Such a meeting never took place, but it makes for gripping theatre, and this second opera in the WNO ‘Three Queens’ series is a winner. The designs by Madeleine Boyd continue to use the sombre black …

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Anna Bolena, Welsh National Opera, WNO, Cardiff, September 2013

Three Queens is the main theme of Welsh National Opera’s Autumn 2013 season, which opened last night with Anna Bolena. This was Donizetti’s first really big success after more than thirty other operas, and its darkly dramatic atmosphere is well-served by Alessandro Talevi’s production. At the start of the opera Anne Boleyn’s power has already …

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Billy Budd, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2013

This concert version of the Glyndebourne production, using the same singers, conductor, chorus and orchestra, added one glorious extra touch. At the end of the Epilogue, after Captain Vere has recalled his inaction that led to the hanging of Billy Budd in 1797, he walked slowly off the stage, and the only sound in the …

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Parsifal, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2013

The Albert Hall was the first venue for a concert performance of Parsifal, at least in England, just two years after the Bayreuth premiere of 1882. At that time copyright protection restricted staged performances to Bayreuth, but who needs a full staging? This 2013 performance with powerful musical direction by Mark Elder, and subtle stage …

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Wagner’s Ring: Siegfried and Götterdämmering, Bayreuth, August 2013

The overall conception of this production is seediness, but the main problem is a failure of dramaturgy and linkage to the music. There is a sword, originally held by Siegmund, but Siegfried uses a machine-gun for killing Fafner, and although Hagen brings out a spear for the opposing oaths of Brünnhilde and Siegfried, he simply …

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Wagner’s Ring: Rheingold and Walküre, Bayreuth, August 2013

After the finest Rheingold I have ever heard, at the Proms with Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle this summer, it would be churlish to draw comparisons with the Bayreuth orchestra under Kirill Petrenko. They played well, and there were some lovely moments, yet the production by Frank Castorf treated it as background music. Rheingold …

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Billy Budd, Glyndebourne, August 2013

A brilliant evening at the opera requires three things: a first rate opera, an illuminating production, and marvellous singing. Here we had all three. Billy Budd, shown here in its two-act version, rather than the four-act original, is a stunning piece of theatre. The three main characters, Captain Vere, Billy, and Claggart, all embody in …

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Tannhäuser, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2013

This was an intriguing performance of Tannhäuser, with Donald Runnicles conducting the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, as chief conductor of the first and music director of the second. After the long overture, there floated down from high in the gallery the lovely voices of several chorus ladies …

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Götterdämmerung, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, July 2013

At the end, Barenboim held his baton up, and five thousand people held their applause. As he let the baton drop the cheers started, and continued until he came on one last time to make a small speech, thanking the orchestra, singers, and indeed the audience for its wonderful silence and rapt attention. He also …

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Tristan und Isolde, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, July 2013

One of the great things about opera at the Proms, apart from the avoidance of strange fancies by the stage director, is being able to see the orchestra and instrumental soloists. This was particularly valuable towards the end of Act I as the chorus of sailors at the rear made their presence felt, and the …

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I Gioielli della Madonna, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2013

“There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu”, and the moral of the story is that if you steal jewels from a sacred idol, you will die, and the jewels will revert to their proper location. In that poem the jewel was stolen to satisfy the whim of a young woman, who rejected …

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Das Rheingold, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, 22 July 2013

What a terrific start to the Ring this was. Even before Daniel Barenboim entered the auditorium, to huge applause, there was a real buzz of anticipation and it all ended with a sustained ovation. I was not intending to write this up until the end of the cycle, particularly having heard the same conductor and …

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Don Pasquale, Glyndebourne, July 2013

Ultimately based on Ben Jonson’s play The Silent Woman, the main character is an elderly bachelor who suddenly takes it into his head to find a young wife and raise a family. This is partly to disinherit his nephew, Ernesto, who refuses to marry the woman chosen for him, and the solution to this problem …

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Capriccio in Concert, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2013

Though only a concert performance with orchestra on stage, the ample room in front allowed the singers to dramatise their feelings, none more so than Danish baritone Bo Skovhus as the Count. He injected huge life, lustiness and levity into the performance of this engaging philistine, a wonderful counterpoint to the artistic sensitivities of his …

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La Rondine, with Jaho and Ayan, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2013

This Puccini opera, first produced at Monte Carlo in 1917, was not seen at the Royal Opera House at all during the twentieth century. Then in 2002 a co-production with the Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse appeared at Covent Garden with its magnificently spacious sets by Ezio Frigerio and swirling Act I frescos à la Alphonse …

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Hippolyte et Aricie, Glyndebourne, July 2013

This is the third Rameau opera I have seen in as many years, and I understand the problem. Rameau’s delightful music — played here on original instruments by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the excellent baton of William Christie — is full of wonderful dance rhythms. The question is what to do …

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Der Ring des Nibelungen, Longborough, June/ July 2013

Longborough Festival Opera provided one of the most memorable moments in any Ring I’ve seen — as the lights went out at the end of Walküre a stunned silence enveloped the audience for at least half a minute. Wotan’s farewell to Brünnhilde over, a mist surrounded the god as he knelt by the sleeping body of his …

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Grimes on the Beach, Aldeburgh, June 2013

It all started with a Spitfire, flying low across the sea, first one way then the other, before looping the loop and vanishing into the distance. This reminder of 1945 fitted the costumes and ostensibly precarious sets by Leslie Travers in Tim Albery’s excellent production. Watching Britten’s Grimes on a set that ran along the …

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Gloriana, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2013

Unlike predecessors such as Peter Grimes (1945) and Billy Budd (1951), Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana may never be part of the standard repertoire, but the ROH has now given us a fine new perspective on this opera. Exactly sixty years after its first performances to celebrate the Queen’s Coronation, this newly imaginative, clever and colourful production …

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Death in Venice, English National Opera, London Coliseum, June 2013

Gustav von Aschenbach, the protagonist in Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella is enraptured by a Polish boy Tadzio, just as Mann himself was during his 1911 stay at the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Venice Lido. Britten’s opera fully brings to life Aschenbach’s suppressed passion, and the haunting Venetian soundscapes, complemented by Deborah Warner’s remarkable …

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Dialogues des Carmélites, Grange Park Opera, June 2013

This opera about life and death, about choices made under conditions where society has been led into temporary insanity, deserves and received a production of great simplicity that allowed Poulenc’s music to speak for itself. With excellent vocal performances and orchestral playing under the direction of Stephen Barlow this was a deeply moving experience. The …

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Eugene Onegin, Grange Park Opera, June 2013

At the end, after Onegin has clung uselessly to Tatyana and she has pulled herself away and left the stage, we see Prince Gremin walk across the upper level holding a pistol. A fine dramatic effect, following many others in this beautifully honed production. The splitting of the set into an upper and lower level, …

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Wagner Dream, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, June 2013

This was the first staged production of Jonathan Harvey’s opera Wagner Dream, first performed by Netherlands Opera in Luxembourg in 2007, and in concert at the Barbican in January 2012. Harvey’s opera is set in Venice on the day of Wagner’s death in 1883, and within ten minutes the composer, very well played by actor …

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Cavalleria Rusticana, and I Pagliacci, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2013

After an unusually long winter, walking across Holland Park for the opening of the OHP season it seemed that summer had really arrived. As the orchestra played the Prelude to Cavalleria Rusticana the set opened to reveal Turiddu in bed with Lola, and after the chorus entered to sing of orange blossom, over a dozen …

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The Perfect American, English National Opera, London Coliseum, June 2013

The scenes in this new Philip Glass opera are set mainly in Southern California where Walt Disney lived, worked and died, but there is an early scene in Marceline, Missouri where he spent his childhood. Or did he? Certainly he looked back on his four or five years in Marceline as giving him everything, but …

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Lohengrin, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, May 2013

At the end of this illuminating new production by the WNO, Elsa’s younger brother Gottfried assumes the symbols of power left for him by Lohengrin, causing the assembled forces of the army, except the King and Herald, to cower away. He then raises his hand against Ortrud in her glorious red dress, and she crumples, …

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Ariadne auf Naxos, Glyndebourne, May 2013

The house of the richest man in Vienna, where Strauss and Hofmannsthal set the action, transfers seamlessly to an English country house in Act I with delightful set designs by Julia Müer. Wonderful lighting by Olaf Winter showed the gradual ending of a lovely summer’s day outside as preparations for the evening’s entertainment were underway, …

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La Donna del Lago, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2013

Two tenors love the same soprano — Elena, the Lady of the Lake — but she ends up with her beloved mezzo, Malcolm. The tenors, Uberto, really King James V of Scotland, and Highland Chieftain Rodrigo, are politically and militarily opposed, and though Elena’s father Duglas insists she marry Rodrigo, he is conveniently killed and …

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Wozzeck, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2013

In Georg Büchner’s original play Woyzeck the eponymous character is a poor man discombobulated by his superiors, the Captain and the Doctor. They mock his inability to keep his common law wife Marie away from the amorous attentions of the Drum Major, and his poverty compels his participation in the Doctor’s experiments. He cannot compete …

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Die Zauberflöte, with Keenlyside, Staples, Bevan, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2013

A new set of principals for Zauberflöte in May saw Simon Keenlyside as Papageno, Andrew Staples as Tamino, Sophie Bevan as Pamina, and Matthew Rose as Sarastro. Albina Shagimuratova, who also sang in April, was a gloriously lyrical and luminescent Queen of the Night, showing a welcome vulnerability in Act I. Combining a melodious voice …

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Don Carlo, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2013

What a privilege to witness such an outstanding performance of opera, with the incomparable Jonas Kaufmann in the title role. You want to stay and savour the applause, to recall the extraordinary soliloquy by Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II at the start of Act IV, when he expresses in words the emotional pain he has …

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The Sunken Garden, English National Opera, Barbican, April 2013

This new musical work by Michel van der Aa, combines film narrative and a 3D visual world behind a screen, to a libretto by novelist David Mitchell. Novels are very different from opera librettos, which must develop the characters and story in relatively few words, and part of the problem with this one is that …

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Götterdämmerung, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

When the Rheinmaidens playfully tease Siegfried at the start of Act II, their musical movements were far better than the unmusicality of the irritatingly intrusive dancers, who reappeared in this final part of The Ring. Their manipulation of silk sheets was fine, but this is the first time I have seen opera ladies move more gracefully …

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Siegfried, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

The first two operas of this cycle experienced slight problems: orchestra lights failed a couple of times during Rheingold, and stage backdrop lighting flashed and failed in Walküre. But Siegfried saw a more serious disruption when the eponymous hero failed to show up for Act I. Why, we were not told, but the role was admirably …

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Die Walküre, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

What a spectacular ending to Act III this was, equalled in my recent memory only with Barenboim in the same production at La Scala in December 2010. His sensitive handling of the orchestra framed those hugely gentle scenes between the sympathetic Wotan of René Pape and the intensity of Iréne Theorin as his daughter Brünnhilde, when …

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Das Rheingold, Staatsoper Berlin, Schiller Theater, April 2013

The lights went down and all was silence. In the partially covered pit the conductor was invisible but slowly a quiet E flat emerged. Daniel Barenboim’s restrained conducting allowed huge clarity for the singers and plenty of scope for the brass at big moments. It was a coolly intriguing prelude to The Ring. The stage …

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Nabucco, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2013

After Verdi’s dissatisfaction with his second opera he nearly gave up, but thank goodness he didn’t because this third one is magnificent, apart from its rather weak ending. Placing the action in the 1940s rather than the original setting of 586 BC is a good idea, but it never really gelled and I found Daniele Abbado’s …

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Tosca with Opolais, Lee and Volle, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, 20 March 2013

In this new cast, Kristine Opolais and Yonghoon Lee complemented Michael Volle, who has sung Scarpia all this month at Covent Garden. From my previous experience of him in other bass-baritone roles (from Salome to Aida) he more than lived up to expectations, but it was Yonghoon Lee as Cavaradossi who was the new find …

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I Lombardi, University College Opera, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2013

After UCOpera’s production of a Rameau work last year, which suffered from over-ambitious direction that didn’t gel, I was unsure what this year’s I Lombardi would be like. I need not have worried — it was terrific. Suits of armour and chain mail are expensive, so director Jamie Hayes has updated it to warring gangs …

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Die Feen, Chelsea Opera Group, Queen Elizabeth Hall, March 2013

Wagner was 20 when he wrote this opera, and it was never performed in his lifetime. Seeing it in Fulham forty years ago I was amazed at its sophistication, and delighted with the Chelsea Opera Group’s concert performance last night. The two main characters, Arindal and Ada have the same names as in Wagner’s first …

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Francesca da Rimini, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 17 March 2013

Seeing this opera for the second time in less than three year convinced me that it fills a much-needed gap in the repertoire. Clearly the cuts in London made by Opera Holland Park in 2010 were well judged. But if you’re one of the singers or the conductor or a member of the orchestra it …

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The Siege of Calais, English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, March 2013

This is stirring stuff. Although Donizetti’s L’assedio di Calais (The Siege of Calais) with its unsatisfactory third act is rarely performed, James Conway’s production, which eliminates Act III and its happy ending, is a revelation. This opera, which immediately followed Lucia di Lammermoor, deals with real historical events. In 1346, towards the start of the …

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Written on Skin, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2013

The ROH Insight Evening for this opera described it as being about sexual emancipation and jealousy with a tragic ending that they declined to specify. The emancipation angle is a good spin for modern audiences, but the story is an old one. A man treats his wife as a chattel and she experiences a sexual …

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Così fan tutte, English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, March 2013

If this were Shakespeare we might find our performers to be spirits melted into thin, thin air, for we know nothing about them. They are ciphers on which Mozart and his librettist Da Ponte created a piece of theatre at once frivolous and profound, expressing a joy, playfulness and inanity inherent to life itself. The …

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Parsifal, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 2 March 2013

A stunning performance with a wonderful cast under superb musical direction by Daniele Gatti could make for a series of tiresome superlatives, so I shall start with a more interesting observation. This endlessly intriguing opera allows every production to bring out some new aspect. The brilliant Bayreuth production relates it to the history of Germany …

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The Barber of Seville, English National Opera, London Coliseum, February 2013

This witty Jonathan Miller production, under the baton of Jaime Martín who is making his British operatic debut, is full of lively energy. Revival director Peter Relton has produced excellent team work, with exemplary diction, led by that great singing actor Andrew Shore as Dr. Bartolo. He was a hoot, and the whole cast was …

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Cunning Little Vixen, WNO, Cardiff, February 2013

This opera pits the timeless amorality of the natural world against the emotions and melancholy of human beings. The former is represented by the Vixen, her family, and other forest animals, the latter by Forester, Schoolmaster, Priest and Poacher. In the original story by Rudolf Těsnohlídek, based on drawings by Stanislav Lolek, the Vixen lives …

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Rigoletto, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 16 February 2013

The idea of Rigoletto in early 1960s Las Vegas during the days of the Rat Pack made me apprehensive, but the superb sets by Christine Jones and costumes by Susan Hilferty won me over completely. Count Monterone as an Arab sheikh, the colourful tuxedos of the men, the stylish dark green and purple of Sparafucile’s …

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Medea, English National Opera, London Coliseum, February 2013

Spectacular success for the ENO gives audiences the British premiere of this baroque jewel that has lain in the shadows for about 300 years. With an excellent libretto by Thomas Corneille, well translated by Christopher Cowell, this terrific production by David McVicar makes compelling theatre. Excellent choreography by Lynne Page suits both music and drama, Paule Constable’s lighting gives …

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Lulu, Welsh National Opera, Cardiff, February 2013

Alban Berg’s Lulu, mostly written in 1934, was only performed in a complete version for the first time in 1979. Berg died in 1935, and after his widow could not get Schoenberg, nor Webern or Zemlinsky, to write an orchestration of Act III she refused any attempt at completion, and so it remained until she died …

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Eugene Onegin, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2013

Artistic director Kasper Holten decided quite sensibly to take over the scheduled revival of an earlier production, and do something new. He was already endowed with some fine singers, so there were excellent performances here, including sympathetic conducting by Robin Ticciati. Simon Keenlyside sang strongly as Onegin though the production prevented him from giving a full portrayal …

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La Traviata, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2013

Four scenes with no intermission and no sets, except for multiple curtains and a chair — but it works! This is Traviata cut to its essentials, concentrating on Violetta, and to a lesser extent Germont père. Corinne Winters was a phenomenal Violetta, and as the opera ends she stands alone on stage facing Germont, Alfredo and Annina in the auditorium. …

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Maria Stuarda, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, January 2013

Finally the Met have staged Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda, an 1835 opera based on the play by Schiller written in 1800, where Mary Queen of Scots meets Elizabeth I of England. The meeting never took place, but the play makes for super drama, and the opera provides for some wonderful singing, with the two queens backed up and egged …

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The Minotaur, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, January 2013

The opening night of this revival ended with a tribute to John Tomlinson for 35 years of wonderful service to the ROH — highly appropriate since composer Harrison Birtwistle has said Tomlinson was the key to writing this opera, which had been brewing in his mind for many years. The first scene shows Christine Rice as Ariadne on …

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Les Troyens, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, January 5, 2013

Where are the Trojans when we need them? They provided the Greeks with stories portraying a welcome incompetence, letting a wooden horse full of Greeks into their city, and having their great warrior Hector defeat someone he thought was Achilles, only to be killed by the real one. But in this Met production the Trojans …

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Un Ballo in Maschera, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, December 2012

David Alden’s vivid production of Verdi’s Ballo, portrays the main characters Riccardo and Renato in their historical roles as the Swedish king Gustav III and his murderer Anckarström. The assassination took place at a masked ball, and in an account written by a Polish officer who was present, the king received an anonymous warning “N’allez pas …

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Robert le Diable, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, December 2012

Before the first night of this hugely theatrical opera the ROH sent out a dramatic announcement saying they were “extremely grateful to Patrizia Ciofi, who has taken over the part of Isabelle at extremely short notice and will sing the role for the first four performances”. In the event she was wonderful, having sung the …

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The Mikado, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, December 2012

The Mikado himself in this fantasia of English eccentricity was gloriously played by Richard Angas, with Robert Murray excellent as Nanki-Poo, and Richard Suart giving a brilliant performance of Ko-Ko in his 25thanniversary of the role. This vintage production continues to sparkle with bounce and fizz, and is so extraordinarily up to date that Ko-Ko’s …

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L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, November 2012

This 2007 Laurent Pelly production is set in 1950s Italy with Dulcamara, the charlatan purveyor of an elixir, arriving in an articulated lorry housing a mobile café. There are also bicycles, a moped and motor scooter, even a dog, giving a charmingly simple feel to the rural community. In dress rehearsal for this second revival the movements …

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The Tempest, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, November 2012

This remarkable opera by Thomas Adès, to a libretto by Meredith Oakes, dares turn Shakespeare’s play into an opera, and succeeds. First performed in 2004 at Covent Garden in an intriguing production by Tom Cairns, it was originally co-produced with the Copenhagen Opera House and the Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg. This production at …

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The Pilgrim’s Progress, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2012

John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, was imprisoned in the early 1660s for abstaining from Anglican church services and preaching at unlawful meetings — such things being no longer the vogue they were round the campfires of Cromwell’s army — and this opera starts with him in prison. There he dreams, and we follow …

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Otello, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, 27th October 2012

Wonderful costumes by Peter J. Hall, excellent sets by Michael Yeargan, all beautifully lit by Duane Schuler help bring this Elijah Moshinsky production to life, along with deeply expressive music from the orchestra under the direction of Semyon Bychkov. The star of the show was Renée Fleming as Desdemona, always beautiful and coming through in …

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Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2012

The revival of this production by Rufus Norris has a cast very similar to its opening run in 2010 and works rather well this time. Paul Anderson’s excellent lighting helps create a sense of dark forces at work, and is particularly effective in Act II for the scene featuring Donna Elvira, and again towards the end …

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Julius Caesar, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2012

As a great fan of recent ENO productions I was hoping for better despite the many negative comments I had heard about this one. Julius Caesar, which deals with Caesar’s visit to Egypt in 47 BC when he was chasing Pompey and met the twenty-one-year old Cleopatra, is one of Handel’s great operas, full of rich …

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Bastien and Bastienne, Mozart and Salieri, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, October 2012

This double bill by the Jette Parker Young Artists was a delight. Bastien and Bastienne is a singspiel written by Mozart in 1768 when he was just 12 years old. It is based on a one-act opera Le devin du village by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and deals with two lovers who are brought together by the local devin (soothsayer). Rousseau’s work …

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L’Elisir d’Amore, Metropolitan Opera New York, live cinema relay, October 2012

The Met’s 2012/13 cinema season starts with a romantic comedy, but have no fear, some serious Shakespeare is on the way. In two and four weeks time they will broadcast Verdi’s Otello and Thomas Adès’s The Tempest. In the meantime this was a super L’elisir with Anna Netrebko as a sparkling Adina, and Mariusz Kwiecien as a charmingly forceful Belcore, producing …

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The Lighthouse, English Touring Opera, ETO, Linbury Studio, Covent Garden, October 2012

Just after Christmas in the year 1900 a steamer went to the Flannan Islands Lighthouse bringing a keeper to relieve one of the three keepers already there. The Flannan Isles are a lonely spot beyond the Outer Hebrides, and when the steamer arrived the three keepers had vanished into thin air. What happened? This remarkable …

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Albert Herring, English Touring Opera, ETO, Linbury Studio, Covent Garden, October 2012

This delightful comic opera by Benjamin Britten creates a deftly woven musical tapestry performed by thirteen instrumentalists and roughly the same number of singers. Eric Crozier based his libretto on a tale by Guy de Maupassant, transferring it to a Suffolk town and creating a glorious critique of small town mentality, pomposity and sexual repression. …

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The Emperor of Atlantis, English Touring Opera, ETO, Linbury Studio, October 2012

This extraordinary one-act opera was composed in the Nazi concentration camp Terezin (Theresienstadt), located in what is now the Czech Republic near the German border. Its composer Viktor Ullmann (1898–1944), born in a small town near the meeting point of what is now the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, was a serious musician who had …

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Le Nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne Tour, October 2012

This Michael Grandage production, new in summer 2012, is now on tour with a delightful young cast. Its staging gives a 1960s take on Mozart’s opera, with the Count and Countess as European nouveau riche living in a house boasting Moorish designs by Christopher Oram and lovely flowing robes for the countess, all exquisitely lit …

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Götterdämmerung, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

Under Antonio Pappano’s direction the orchestra gave us a lyrical and multi-layered interpretation of Wagner’s score, ranging from soft moments to huge power. After the prologue with the Norns, followed by Brünnhilde and Siegfried, things really opened out in Act I with John Tomlinson as Hagen in the hall of the Gibichungs. He was riveting …

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Siegfried, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

Wotan’s meeting with Erda that starts Act III of Siegfried is a focal point in his demise.  After awakening her for advice she tells him to ask Brünnhilde, their daughter bold and wise, but learning Wotan has cast her aside, she asks why he who taught defiance punished defiance, why he who ruled by vows now …

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Die Walküre, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

A pivotal point in Wagner’s Ring is Act II scene 1 in Walküre where Fricka faces her husband Wotan. A strong presence is vital here and Sarah Connolly gave a superb portrayal, avoiding the danger of playing her as overbearing but firmly and gently persuading her husband that he is in serious error. It was beautifully done, and she …

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Das Rheingold, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2012

This prologue to Wagner’s Ring promises a feast of fine singing and acting in the remaining three operas of the cycle. Bryn Terfel sang as well or better than I have ever heard him in the role of Wotan, emphasising maturity and self-awareness, showing he realises he has set in motion something against which the …

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Julietta, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2012

Dreams or Reality? For Michel, a bookseller from Paris, there is something addictive about dreams, but in the first two acts the auditorium lights slowly come on at the end, as if he is waking up. When the third act nears its conclusion the lighting shows some promise of doing the same again, but it …

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Magic Flute, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2012

This powerful and illuminating production by Nicholas Hytner may be seeing its last outing after twenty-five years in the repertoire, so don’t miss this ‘final’ revival. The new cast, with young conductor Nicholas Collon making his ENO debut, did a super job. For me the star of the show was Duncan Rock, who recently made …

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Peter Grimes, in concert, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2012

For those who saw English National Opera’s new production of Peter Grimes in 2009, here was a chance to savour the full glory of Britten’s score. With the ENO orchestra and chorus in the vast expanse of the Albert Hall under brilliant direction by Edward Gardner, this was a musical treat. As Grimes himself, Stuart Skelton gave a …

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Ravel Double Bill, Glyndebourne, August 2012

This wonderful pairing of two Ravel operas is a must-see, with L’heure espagnole showing the erotic machinations of a clockmaker’s wife, and L’enfant et les sortilèges the fearful consequences felt by a child who breaks the regular structure of his life. For anyone who has seen the elegant minimalism of Covent Garden’s L’heure espagnole, Glyndebourne’s Laurent Pelly production — based …

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Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, July 2012

The present extraordinary Bayreuth production by Stefan Herheim portrays Germany from before the First World War to the aftermath of the Second, with Parsifal representing the true spirit of the country, and Amfortas the one that lost itself in Nazi times. It all starts during the overture, with Parsifal’s mother Herzeleide close to death. Lying …

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Lohengrin, Bayreuth Festival, July 2012

This intriguing production by Hans Neuenfels, now in its third year, concentrates on the people rather than the distant historical setting in which Wagner sets his opera. The stage action starts already during the overture with Lohengrin in an antiseptically white room trying to get out, which he eventually achieves by simply walking backwards through …

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Der fliegende Holländer, Bayreuth Festival, July 2012

The 2012 Wagner festival at Bayreuth started in dramatic fashion when the singer in the title role for a new production of The Flying Dutchman suddenly pulled out. Evgeny Nikitin, covered in body-tattoos from his former career as a heavy-metal singer, found himself the focus of attention, and although claims of a swastika seem unfounded, his …

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The Fairy Queen, Glyndebourne, July 2012

A  Midsummer Night’s Dream as Gesamtkunstwerk, with actors, singers, and dancers in Purcell’s remarkable semi-opera, is given here in an eclectic production by Jonathan Kent combining the seventeenth century with modern times — linked of course by the fairies. It all starts in a Restoration drawing room with a Restoration version of Shakespeare. His play within a …

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Il Viaggio a Reims, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2012

This anniversary gala concert united Jette Parker Young Artists with several earlier performers from that programme who have since gone on to international careers, and Il Viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Rheims) was the perfect piece to bring them together. Written by Rossini to celebrate the coronation of Charles X in 1825, it all takes place at a spa hotel, where …

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Götterdämmerung, Longborough Festival Opera, LFO, July 2012

After the success of previous years with Rheingold, Walküre and Siegfried, and now with this production of Götterdämmerung, Longborough Opera is ready for a full Wagner Ring next summer. The gold stolen from the Rheinmaidens, which Alberich turned into a ring of great power and Wotan stole from him to pay for Valhalla, is eventually returned …

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Yevgeny Onegin, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2012

This production by Daniel Slater updates the action by nearly 100 years to a time we all understand, making it clear that Onegin is living in the past. Such was arguably Pushkin’s intent in setting his novel in the period 1819–25 when reforms were very much in the air, and later crushed. Here we are …

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Otello, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2012

We are surely lucky that this revival of Elijah Moshinsky’s wonderful 1987 production — the first since 2005 — was directed by the man himself, and it was hugely effective. The sets with those vast pillars help give the impression that a mere human tragedy is being played out against a world that will carry …

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Double Bill: Zanetto/ Gianni Schicchi, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2012

Mascagni, friend of Puccini and composer of the hugely successful Cavalleria Rusticana, produced more than a dozen other operas. Cav was his second, and L’amico Fritz (OHP last year) the third. Now Opera Holland Park have produced a later one, Zanetto which, like Fritz, suffers from a very weak libretto. But it was gloriously sung by Janice Watson as the wealthy, celebrated, but lovelorn Silvia, and Patricia …

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Le Nozze di Figaro, Glyndebourne, June 2012

If you demand this opera in eighteenth century costume — and I overheard some in the audience who did — then forget it. But if you are happy to see a more up to date interpretation, then this is a winner. It’s the 1960s and Almaviva is one of the nouveau riche, possibly a pop star, …

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Dr Dee, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2012

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. So says Hamlet in the words of Shakespeare, who died eight years after that extraordinary Englishman, John Dee (1527–1608), whom he may have used as a model for Prospero in The Tempest. Part of the inspiration for this opera, according …

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Les Troyens, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2012

As the Euro crisis deepens, it is salutary to see Cassandra on stage — her foresight ever accurate but never believed. In the first part of this grand opera, Cassandra is the main character, superbly sung and acted by Anna Caterina Antonacci. It all starts with the chorus happily expressing their joy that the Greeks …

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Billy Budd, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2012

This Benjamin Britten opera, based on Herman Melville’s story of the same name, is a tragedy set in 1797 during the French Revolutionary Wars. It’s a hugely strong work, and Edward Gardner in the orchestra pit gave it everything. The orchestra played with great power, the chorus was magnificent, and the singers were wonderful. The opera …

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Così fan tutte, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2012

This was a second hit for Opera Holland Park this season — a great team performance bringing Così fan tutte fully to life. Fine eighteenth century designs by Alex Eales, plus a cheerful sunny set in the centre of the stage, were accompanied by the chorus as an on-stage audience, and bright lighting design by Colin Grenfell that showed …

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Lucia di Lammermoor, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2012

The new Holland Park season opened on a blustery cool evening, just right for the Scottish setting of Donizetti’s Lucia. Its plot, based on a novel by Walter Scott, is absolutely up to the minute in view of the government’s recent proclamation making forced marriage illegal, and costumes were appropriately modern. These omens turned out well, and …

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Salome, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2012

With superb vocal power and control from Angela Denoke as Salome, and thrilling sound from the orchestra under the direction of Andris Nelsons, it doesn’t get any better than this. This was the second revival of David McVicar’s production, first seen in 2008, and Angela Denoke’s second turn at the title role, since her earlier …

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Caligula, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2012

Caligula ruled for just under four years (AD 37–41) before being assassinated at the age of 28. He was the emperor who threatened to make his horse a consul, simply to mock the subservience of the aristocracy, and when one sycophant proffered his own life should the emperor recover from illness, Caligula took it from …

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The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne, May 2012

Standing outside in the grounds of Glyndebourne facing the ha-ha near the new statues of hunting dogs, one looks to the left and sees a green hill just like the one on stage; and in front of the stage hill is a tree made of pieces of wood. The stage tree lends an air of …

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Falstaff, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2012

The production team for Robert Carsen’s new staging of Verdi’s Falstaff received a mixed reception. Why so? This is a co-production with La Scala where it will feature in Verdi’s bicentenary there next year. Carsen has updated the setting of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor from Elizabethan times to 1950s England, with Sir John and other men in hunting red at …

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Madam Butterfly, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2012

Anthony Minghella died four years ago, but his wonderful English National Opera production of Madam Butterfly lives on. Created in 2005 it attracted huge acclaim and won the Olivier Award for best new opera production. Those who attend live relays from the Metropolitan Opera in New York may have seen it in the cinema in 2009, but it’s better in …

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Einstein on the Beach, Barbican Theatre, May 2012

When this work was created in 1976 the musical world was full of new inventiveness, and this opera — if that’s the right term — was very much in the avant garde. Five hours of theatre without an interval, allowing one to enter and exit at will, was a new experience and new experiences were in vogue. …

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La Bohème with Calleja and Giannattasio, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2012

This production by John Copley, first staged in 1974, has been revived twenty-four times so far — not surprising since it just gets everything right. So indeed did Joseph Calleja as Rodolfo, bringing real depth and lyricism to the role. From the very start Calleja exhibited a catching youthful energy, and after taking Mimi’s cold hand in his …

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The Flying Dutchman, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, April 2012

Sudden darkness in the auditorium … the orchestra struck up, and we were treated to great power and sensitivity from the baton of Edward Gardner. The silences were silent, the quiet passages quiet, and the loud passages with the chorus came over with huge force. This new production by Jonathan Kent starts in the overture with a …

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La Bohème, Opera Australia live cinema relay, April 2012

Transferring the action from late nineteenth century Paris to early 1930s Berlin allowed director Gale Edwards some extra scope with Act II. The Café Momus has become a cabaret venue, replete with scantily dressed girls in stockings and corsets, including one topless, and hints of bisexuality. With a superb performance by Taryn Fiebig as a very glamorous Musetta, this was …

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Jakob Lenz, English National Opera, ENO, Hampstead Theatre, April 2012

It’s not often you see the main performer in an opera fall into deep water on stage. In fact I’m sure I’ve never seen such a thing before, and this was not metaphorical water. It was the real thing, and Andrew Shore gave a remarkable performance as the eponymous character. Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz was …

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Rigoletto, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2012

In Act III of this opera, Rigoletto takes his daughter Gilda to Sparafucile’s tavern to show her the Duke’s real nature. She hears him singing La donna è mobile, sees him having fun with Maddalena, and is shocked and heartbroken. Her father takes her home, sends her off to Verona, but … being too busy arranging the …

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Acante et Céphise, University College Opera, UCL, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2012

Each year University College Opera produces a little-performed opera from the past, and this year it was by the pre-eminent composer of eighteenth century French opera, Jean-Philippe Rameau. This particular opera was originally commissioned for the royal household to celebrate the birth of an heir to the heir to the throne, incongruously tacked on to the …

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Miss Fortune, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2012

The title of this opera is a play on words, the eponymous character being the daughter of Lord and Lady Fortune, whose riches have melted away, and after the chorus sings, “We think you should go to gaol”, they take off. Miss Fortune stays behind singing that, “I won’t scuttle away … I’m going to live in …

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Eugene Onegin, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2012

Having seen Onegin performed on a large stage by major opera companies, with glamorous ball scenes and spacious settings for the Larin country estate, I approached this smaller stage production with some trepidation. But it was a revelation. The simple sets provide the perfect atmosphere, and the performance gives a wonderful insight into Tchaikovsky’s representation of Pushkin’s drama. The solo …

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The Barber of Seville, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2012

Clever designs and glorious costumes by Rhys Jarman give a fine dramatic underpinning for this production of Rossini’s Barber, and Grant Doyle made a marvellous entrance as the barber, Figaro. This was the first night, and after a nervous start things came together in Act II. Kitty Whately made a beautifully inspiring Rosina, mistress of the situation despite the machinations …

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The Death of Klinghoffer, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2012

This opera has sparked controversy at its first staging in London. Why? The essential story is that in 1985 an Italian cruise ship at dock in Alexandria was hijacked by four Palestinian terrorists, who seem to have had a confused idea about freeing prisoners in Israeli jails. Many of the people on the cruise were away …

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Rusalka, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2012

Can a force of nature acquire a soul? This is what Rusalka wants, to become human. As she says to the water spirit Vodník, humans have souls and go to heaven when they die. But souls are full of sin, says Vodník, …  and of love she responds. She has seen her prince and wants him to love her. Dvořak’s opera …

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Ernani, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, February 2012

After Verdi’s first four operas were premiered at La Scala, La Fenice in Venice commissioned the fifth, and the composer eventually plumped for Victor Hugo’s play Hernani, a drama on Castillian honour. The resulting opera Ernani may lack the irony and humour of the original play, but it supplies four glorious roles for soprano, tenor, baritone, and bass. Requiting Spanish honour leads to …

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Tales of Hoffmann — a second view, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2012

This was a second visit to the English National Opera’s new production of Hoffmann, a joint venture with the Bavarian State Opera. The cast was identical — see my previous review for more details — and once again, Georgia Jarman gave a remarkable performance as all three lovers: Olympia, Antonia, and Giulietta, along with the silent role of Stella …

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Don Giovanni with Erwin Schrott, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2012

Erwin Schrott was a remarkable Don, good looking, devilishly charming, but with a nasty streak hidden by an insouciant devil-may-care attitude. And his singing was equally remarkable, with an easy casualness as if he were simply talking. As his counterpoint and servant, Alex Esposito as Leporello sang and acted the part with utter conviction. His Madamina aria, where he recounts to …

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Götterdämmerung, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, February 2012

Rossini is said to have commented that Wagner had some beautiful moments, but terrible quarters of an hour. Whether this is genuine, I don’t know, but Rossini never heard Götterdämmerung, which is riveting, from the Norns with their rope of fate at the start to Brünnhilde’s immolation at the end. In the right hands with the right singers Götterdämmerung is magnificent, and …

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The Tales of Hoffmann, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2012

E.T.A. Hoffmann was a jurist, composer, critic, cartoonist, and author of fantastic tales that form the basis for Nutcracker and Coppelia. His stories about a composer named Kreisler inspired Schumann to his Kreisleriana, and after his death this polymath became a character in a play by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, which Offenbach adopted, with a libretto by Barbier, for what is surely …

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La Traviata, with Bobro, Grigolo and Gavanelli, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, 23 January 2012.

This performance on January 23 was to have been the first of two with Ermonela Jaho as Violetta, and Vittorio Grigolo as Alfredo, but Ms. Jaho was unwell and her place was taken at the last minute by Slovenian soprano Bernarda Bobro, making her debut at Covent Garden. She has recently sung the role in Estonia, Schleswig-Holstein and Stuttgart, and worked with the Royal Opera House …

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The Enchanted Island, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, January 2012

Shakespeare’s Tempest with the lovers from Midsummer Night’s Dream thrown in, all to music by Handel, Vivaldi, Rameau, et al, with fabulous costumes, sets, and even mermaids. This enterprising creation by Jeremy Sams, following an original idea by the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb, is an innovative project that really succeeds, particularly in Act II. When I first went to …

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, December 2011

This was Antonio Pappano’s first Meistersinger for the Royal Opera, and from the start of the overture to the final chords of Act III, more than five hours later, his peerless conducting drove Wagner’s comedy forward with huge effect. The chorus too was excellent, from the first four-part harmony in the church to their final embrace of Sachs …

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Faust, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2011

The huge power of this performance was the work of the devil. And as Mephistopheles, René Pape was not just vocally superb, but had a stage presence oozing power and devilment. An immensely smooth operator of huge gravitas who could nevertheless move across the stage while lifting a leg as if in a grand jeté, …

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Rodelinda, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2011

The Met first produced this Handel opera in the same production in 2004 with Renée Fleming in the title role. In this live cinema screening she took on the role again and gave a wonderful performance, showing the anguish of the queen who has apparently lost her husband Bertarido in battle, and is now wooed …

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Tosca, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2011

Catherine Malfitano’s production of Tosca opens with a bang, not just from the excellent conducting of Stephen Lord, but the sudden appearance of the escaped prisoner Angelotti, centre stage at the rear of the church. He turns and flies forward, a dramatic move that sets the scene for this most theatrical of operas. Cavaradossi’s entrance …

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Ruddigore, Opera North, Barbican, November 2011

W. S. Gilbert, the librettist for this work, was a master of wit, not just on paper but spontaneously in conversation. When a neighbour referred admiringly to Ruddigore calling it Bloodygore, Gilbert objected, so the neighbour said: “Same thing isn’t it?” WSG was swift as a rapier, “If I admire your ruddy countenance, it doesn’t mean I …

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Eugene Onegin, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2011

Altogether this is a wonderful new production by the ENO, and the visual effects were so good that the audience spontaneously applauded the ball scene as the curtain opened for Act III.

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Siegfried, Metropolitan Opera, Met live cinema relay, November 2011

This production by Robert Lepage, brilliantly conducted by Fabio Luisi, brings nuances in the score and the libretto that had previously passed me by …

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La Sonnambula, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, November 2011

Spanish tenor Celso Albelo was terrific as Elvino, being on top form from beginning to end, and giving serious meaning to the term bel canto.

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Heart of Darkness, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, November 2011

Wow! This was a remarkable achievement by 33 year old composer Tarik O’Regan, along with a libretto by artist Tom Phillips. They have packed Joseph Conrad’s novella into 75 minutes of gripping musical narrative, starting in London with the old sea captain, Marlow — beautifully sung by Alan Oke — in a moment of recollection, “He was …

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Don Giovanni, Metropolitan Opera live relay from New York, October 2011

For Don Giovanni lovers it doesn’t get much better than this. The Met’s new music director Fabio Luisi gave a sparkling account of the overture, and the performance never looked back. Mariusz Kwiecien combined noble aplomb with demi-world charm as the Don, and Luca Pisaroni was the perfect foil as his sidekick Leporello. Their early dialogue was …

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Placido Domingo Celebration, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, October 2011

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Domingo’s first appearance at the Royal Opera House (as Cavaradossi in Tosca), this was a three-part Verdi programme featuring the final acts of Otello, Rigoletto and Simon Boccanegra, and amply demonstrating his superb sense of drama. Domingo is a consummate artist — not just a wonderful singer, but a terrific actor. When I …

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Castor and Pollux, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2011

Originally composed in 1737 this opera was revised in 1754 and subsequently became Rameau’s most popular. Castor and Pollux are brothers, the former mortal, the latter immortal, and the start of the story is roughly that Castor is adored by Phoebe and her sister Telaira, who is betrothed to Pollux. He gives her up so …

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Der Fliegende Holländer, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2011

Jeffrey Tate in the orchestra pit gave Wagner’s Flying Dutchman a wonderful clarity, helped of course by the singers, particularly Anja Kampe as a beautifully pure voiced Senta. This was the role in which she made her Covent Garden debut when the production was new in 2009. The singers for the other main roles are …

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Anna Bolena, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, October 2011

This was the work that finally put Donizetti on the map. Having already produced over thirty operas in Italy, he suddenly became famous across Europe after the first performance in Milan on 26 December 1830. The first Anna was the amazing soprano Giuditta Pasta, who less than three months later created the role of Amina in La …

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The Fairy Queen, English Touring Opera, ETO, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, October 2011

Purcell for the twenty first century — or perhaps the seventeenth, or the nineteenth — and it’s enormous fun. This semi-opera, based on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, is a series of masques written by Purcell a century later in the early 1690s, and this production is based on the incarceration in a mental hospital of nineteenth …

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Xerxes, English Touring Opera, ETO, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, October 2011

Power and youthful passion are grist to the mill of Handel’s plots, and James Conway’s production is set on a World War II air base with Xerxes as the new ruler, whose enthusiasm for the Spitfire is matched by his infatuation for the lovely wartime nurse and singer Romilda. His brother, fighter pilot Arsamenes, is also …

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The Marriage of Figaro, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, October 2011

Roland Wood acted the part as if he were Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey with a wonderful singing voice and hormones running riot, even tearing a doll to pieces in Act III. Forget the TV series — go to the opera.

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Faust, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2011

Covent Garden has a talent for staging nineteenth century operas in sumptuous productions with excellent singers, and this is another fine example. Gounod’s Faust, with its libretto by Barbier and Carré based on Carré’s earlier play Faust et Marguerite, is loosely fashioned on Goethe’s great work, though it’s hardly Goethe. David McVicar’s production, with its sets by …

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The Passenger, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2011

A ship bound for South America in the early 1960s is taking a German diplomat and his wife Liese to a post in Brazil. Steep stairways connect the upper deck of the ship to the hell of 1940s Auschwitz below. Nearly twenty years after the Second World War a guard and a prisoner of the …

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The Elixir of Love, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, September 2011

A revival of Jonathan Miller’s production of Elixir, set in a diner in small town America, is an excellent way to start the new season. Miller’s production first appeared in early 2010, and the two stars of those performances returned to give us their best: Sarah Tynan as the saucy, sassy Adina, and Andrew Shore as …

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Il Trittico, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2011

Suor Angelica knocked Tabarro right off the stage because of one person — Ermonela Jaho. She was . . . words fail me . . . sublime . . . ethereal.

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Don Giovanni, Soho Theatre, August/ September 2011

After the presence has left, Johnny sees his life flash past him, and rushes out through the door. At the end we see an image of a man hanging by a rope — Johnny’s final experience, his own death.

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The Turn of the Screw, Glyndebourne, August 2011

The clarity of this production, and this performance, was exceptional. From the first words of the Prologue to the last words of the drama when the Governess asks the limp body of Miles, “What have we done between us?”, the whole story was laid bare. The scene with the governess travelling by train to the big …

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La Wally, Opera Holland Park, OHP, August 2011

Act I of this opera is super, ending with Wally’s famous aria Ebben! Ne andrò lontana (Well then! I shall go far away) sung with great dramatic purpose by Gweneth-Ann Jeffers. Rather than sing this as a set piece aria, she alternated beautifully between pensive moments and real power. Her stubbornly narcissistic father Stromminger, well-portrayed by Stephen Richardson, …

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Rigoletto, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2011

Rigoletto himself was brilliantly sung and performed by Robert Poulton. He didn’t overdo the nastiness of this character, as sometimes happens, yet his determination to take revenge came over very well when he makes the fatal mistake of telling his daughter to go home alone, after showing her the Duke’s real character.

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Meistersinger, Bayreuth Festival, July 2011

Tickets for Bayreuth are hard to come by, so you know something’s wrong when people are disposing of Meistersinger at half price outside the theatre.

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Parsifal, Bayreuth Festival, July 2011

The imagery is enormous, but the production concept is simple. It’s the history of Germany from before the First World War until after the Second.

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Lohengrin, Bayreuth Festival, July 2011

The video projections of rats fighting and metaphorically trying to take over the kingdom were clever, and I loved the opening of Act II with a dead horse and overturned carriage.

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Tannhäuser, Bayreuth, July 2011

What fun this was at the end! The production team were booed to the rafters with not a handclap to be heard, and Venus was so roundly booed she didn’t return for her second curtain call.

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Siegfried, Longborough Festival Opera, July 2011

… here at Longborough I wouldn’t have wanted Act I to last a minute less, because Daniel Brenna and Colin Judson were riveting as Siegfried and Mime.

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William Tell, in concert, Prom 2, Royal Albert Hall, July 2011

This opera is Rossini’s last, fulfilling a commission for a grand opera made five years earlier when he took up residence in Paris. The press had been buzzing with information on its progress, and in his book on Rossini, Francis Toye tells us that “On August 3rd, 1829, it was finally produced before an audience …

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Tosca, with Gheorghiu, Kaufmann, and Terfel, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2011

The orchestra, under brilliant direction by Antonio Pappano, started with a bang and the tension kept up throughout. Lukas Jakobski made a strong entrance as the escaped prisoner Angelotti, and as he left, Jeremy White came on as a humble Sacristan followed by a madding crowd of children. All very good theatre, before Cavaradossi enters, …

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Seven Angels, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, July 2011

This is a story about the desecration of the environment, told in the form of gluttony and the abandonment of boundaries in the bringing up of a spoiled young prince.

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Le Nozze di Figaro, Opera Holland Park, OHP, July 2011

There were chainé turns as servants enter and exit the stage, along with the occasional pas-de-deux, all very well rehearsed and executed. The Crazy Day is the other title for Beaumarchais’ original play, and this production by Liam Steel, who also did the choreography, certainly gave full rein to the craziness.

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Cendrillon, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2011

The solid-looking walls in this production carry the text of Perrault’s fairy tale Cinderella, as if to reassure us that our lovely heroine will indeed eventually get her prince.

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Rinaldo, Glyndebourne, July 2011

The Siege of Jerusalem in 1099 is represented here by public schoolboys versus St. Trinian’s. Hockey sticks against lacrosse sticks. Super fun, and a rather good background for all the youthful amour and magical manipulations that form the heart of this Handel opera. The main feature of the story is that Rinaldo is in love …

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Two Boys, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2011

This is great theatre. But it’s also more than that. This is a wonderful opera — a co-production with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, who put together composer Nico Muhly and librettist Craig Lucas.

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Peter Grimes, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2011

This production brings out the horrid awkwardness of Grimes’s estrangement from the local community, eliciting our sympathy for him …

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Cocteau Voices, Linbury Studio, ROH2, Covent Garden, June 2011

The main attraction was La Voix Humaine by Poulenc, brilliantly performed by Nuccia Focile with the Southbank Sinfonia under the direction of Garry Walker. It was given in English, and Ms. Focile’s enunciation was extremely good, which was important since there are no surtitles at the Linbury. The fact that she retained my attention for her 50 …

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L’amico Fritz, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2011

This is Mascagni’s second opera after his great success with Cavalleria Rusticana, and Stuart Stratford’s conducting of the City of London Sinfonia brought out its high moments most beautifully.

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Simon Boccanegra, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, June 2011

At the end of this opera, Boccanegra is finally reconciled with his arch-enemy Jacopo Fiesco, and blesses the marriage of his long lost daughter Amelia with the young Gabriele Adorno, a previously sworn enemy. Now, dying of a slow poison, administered by his right hand man Paolo, he asks Fiesco to make Adorno his successor …

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Don Pasquale, Opera Holland Park, OHP, June 2011

Don Pasquale is Donizetti’s sixty-fourth opera, and one of his most successful. The title character is a wealthy but crotchety older man who disapproves of the marital choice of his nephew Ernesto. This young man wants to marry the high-spirited, youthful widow, Norina, so Pasquale has decided to take a young wife for himself, and disinherit …

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Tosca, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2011

… the main plaudits go of course to Serafin and Giordani, along with Antonio Pappano in the orchestra pit. Act III starts beautifully quietly — this is wonderful music, and Pappano directed it with immense sensitivity …

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Macbeth, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2011

… it was huge pleasure to hear Liudmyla Monastyrska as Lady Macbeth, with her superb vocal technique, and her breathtaking power.

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne, May 2011

This new production of Meistersinger by David McVicar elicited thunderous applause at the end. And what an end it was, with Hans Sachs’s monologue being given its full force in a way I’ve not seen before. When Walther refuses the award of Mastership from Pogner, Gerald Finley as Sachs draws him aside to stage right, and his …

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2011

…if you’re willing to accept a representation of mysterious forces in the otherwise mundane world of human beings, then this is strongly recommended as an intriguing take on Britten’s opera.

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Die Walküre, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, May 2011

The second act of Walküre is the axis about which the whole Ring turns, and I’ll restrict my remarks mainly to that part. In the first Ring opera, Rheingold, Wotan is persuaded to give up the mighty ring that he stole from Alberich. This is when the earth goddess Erda appears from the depths warning him to Flieh’ des …

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Clemency, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, May 2011

In Genesis Chapter 18 three unknown men visit Abraham. He welcomes them warmly and gives them food. In return they tell him that his wife Sarah will have a child, though “it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women”. She laughs, but the Lord promises to return a year hence when she …

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Don Sanche, St. John’s Smith Square, London, May 2011

Liszt harboured ambitions to be an opera composer, but Don Sanche or Le château de l’amour is his only work in that genre — yet it received its first performance in Paris in 1825 before he had even reached his 14th birthday! Hearing this tuneful composition, reminiscent of Rossini and Donizetti, was an unalloyed pleasure. The story is that Don …

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The Damnation of Faust, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2011

This is ostensibly a French opera sung in English, though it’s not really an opera but a légende dramatique by Hector Berlioz — a musical and vocal canvas on which a clever director can paint his own picture. And this is exactly what Terry Gilliam does by turning the whole thing into a history about the rise …

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Werther, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2011

There they are in a lonely room within the stage, while snow falls outside, and the red shawl Charlotte wrapped around her white dress before rushing to Werther’s side matches the red blood on his white shirt. It’s a sad and lovely scene, and the audience roared their approval of Rolando Villazon in the title role, …

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Gianni Schicchi, Beijing, National Centre for the Performing Arts, April 2011

Gianni Schicchi is such a witty opera one can hardly go wrong, and this was all enormous fun. The singers were wonderfully animated, all clearly looking forward to the death of Buoso, a silent mime that I’ve seen staged in other productions and found rather effective.

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The Tsar’s Bride, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, April 2011

This is about love, jealousy, guilt and remorse — ideal material for opera — ostensibly set in the time of Ivan the Terrible (late Tudor period in England). The power of the oligarchs and the state security police (theoprichniki) is part of the story …

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Opera Shots: The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Doctor’s Tale, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, April 2011

Stewart Copeland’s wonderful adaptation of this story to the opera stage …

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The Three Pintos, University College Opera, UCL, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2011

In the end, Gaston admits that the original Don Pinto, who seemed to have gate-crashed the wedding party, is in fact the real one, and the astonished Gomez then turns to Gaston and says, “but you’re Don Pinto”. “So there are three Don Pintos!” says the astonished father, giving us the title of the opera …

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A Magic Flute, C.I.C.T./Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, at the Barbican, March 2011

Essentially this is a pared down version of Mozart, played on the piano, with singers who would not hold their own with an orchestra, and sometimes had difficulty filling the Barbican concert hall.

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The Return of Ulysses, English National Opera, ENO, at the Young Vic, March 2011

The return of Odysseus to Ithaca and his faithful wife, Penelope forms the end of the Odyssey, that magnificent epic by Homer. The Latinised version of Odysseus is Ulysses, and this opera by Monteverdi tells of Penelope’s anguish, the shenanigans of her suitors, and the unruly behaviour of some servants. Ulysses returns after twenty years away, …

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La Clemenza di Tito, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, London, March 2011

Redemption for all guilty parties has to wait for the second and final act, which shows in stark detail the magnanimity of Titus.

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Aida, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2011

Exiles and refugees in the modern world can take their gods with them, but it was not always so … and when Roberto Alagna as Radames sings in Act III that Aida is demanding he abandon his homeland, and therefore his gods too (Abbandonar la patria, l’are de’ nostri dei!), it was a riveting moment.

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Il Tabarro, and Gianni Schicchi, English Touring Opera, ETO, Hackney Empire, March 2011

Of the operas dealing with unfaithfulness in marriage, where a man kills his wife’s lover, the two that really get to me are Mascagni’s Cavalieri Rusticana, and Puccini’s Il Tabarro. The Puccini is a superbly dark and intense drama and, like his other operas, combines musical depth with gripping theatre. Moored on the Seine is a barge …

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Iphegénie en Tauride, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, February 2011

This was Gluck’s penultimate opera, and the purity of its music endows the story with enormous clarity.

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Anna Nicole, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2011

This is an opera for today’s celebrity culture, where parts of the media, eager for salacious details, are happy to pick on anyone available. But Anna Nicole Smith was not just anyone — she worked as a stripper and snagged an 89 year-old billionaire, J. Howard Marshall I, though it’s said they never lived together. He …

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Parsifal, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2011

Easter comes late this year but Parsifal is early, and stepping into the warmth of the London Coliseum from a washed-out winter’s day was a treat. As the first bars came out of the orchestra, Mark Wigglesworth’s conducting showed the clarity and quality Wagner’s music demands, and sent tingles down my spine.

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Nixon in China, Metropolitan Opera live relay, cinema, February 2011

Peter Sellars exuded enthusiasm from his toes to the end of his extraordinary hair-do, extolling Adams’s music and saying “it builds and has tension . . . rather like Mozart”.

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Die Zauberflöte, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, February 2011

When the curtain opens a huge serpent appears on stage, which Christopher Maltman, as a very engaging Papageno, later claims to have killed. His body language confirms that the ladies of the night are right to gag him for his lies, and his attitudes provide an excellent contrast to the noble Tamino, beautifully sung by Joseph Kaiser.

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Lucrezia Borgia, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2011

A mother’s anger leads unintentionally to the death of her adored illegitimate son. Shades of Verdi’s Rigoletto here, where a father’s anger leads to the death of his beloved daughter, but there are strong differences. Where Rigoletto is a physically ugly man with a hunchback, Lucrezia Borgia is a beautiful woman, now in her early forties. …

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Les Contes d’Hoffmann (Hoffmannovy Povídky, Tales of Hoffmann), Národní Divadlo (National Theatre), Prague, December 2010

… Atala Schöck sang superbly as the muse and as Hoffmann’s ever-present companion Nicklausse. This Hungarian mezzo has a glorious voice, and I look forward to hearing her again one day.

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Die Walküre, La Scala, Milan, December 2010

… here we had a young and glorious Brünnhilde in Nina Stemme.

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Tannhäuser, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, December 2010

Tannhäuser himself was boldly and strongly sung by Johan Botha, whose ample frame suits the role of one who has taken his fill of earthly delights.

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Don Carlo, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2010

It’s a human drama of huge proportions, and Ferruccio Furlanetto in the central role of Philip II of Spain showed to perfection the king’s isolated uncertainty and emotional distress.

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A Dog’s Heart, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, November 2010

The production by Simon McBurney is riveting. There is perpetual action and movement without in any way detracting or distracting from the music, and the puppetry by the Blind Summit Theatre is excellent.

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Adriana Lecouvreur, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, November 2010

As I took my seat on the first night a young man said to his companion that this was better than Puccini. On the other hand I know of someone who walked out of the dress rehearsal at the first interval saying this was not opera. My opinion falls in between such strikingly different reactions.

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Don Pasquale, Metropolitan Opera live cinema relay, November 2010

There was electricity aplenty, and that marvellous Act 3 duet between Kwiecien and Del Carlo was carried off with wonderful speed and sparkle.

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Don Giovanni, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, November 2010

This production by Rufus Norris with sets by Ian MacNeil had some nice aspects … but the plethora of good ideas was all a bit too much for me.

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Songs from a Hotel Bedroom, Linbury Studio, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2010

Kurt Weill is the composer of two operatic works that I like very much — The Threepenny Opera (Berlin, 1928) and Street Scene (New York, 1947) — along with lots of glorious songs from other stage works. I was delighted to hear many of those songs in this drama created by Kate Flatt and Peter Rowe, with …

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Roméo et Juliette, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2010

Piotr Beczala’s performance of Romeo’s cavatina “Ah! lève-toi, soleil!” elicited huge applause and moved the performance into a higher gear.

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La Bohème, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, October 2010

… Mimi herself was the star of the show, gloriously sung by Elizabeth Llewellyn, making her ENO debut.

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The Duenna, English Touring Opera [ETO], Royal Opera House Linbury Studio, October 2010

It’s a pleasure to see English Touring Opera in London, and know that they will be taking this delightful production to other cities. It deserves to be a sell-out everywhere.

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Rigoletto, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2010

The duke gets many of the best tunes, but the most important character is the jester, Rigoletto, and we are lucky in this new run to have Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the role. He was sensational, both in singing and acting …

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Promised End, English Touring Opera, Royal Opera House Linbury Studio, October 2010

One might expect an operatic treatment of King Lear to be of Wagnerian proportions, yet Alexander Goehr’s version lasts only one and three quarter hours, including an interval.

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Das Rheingold, Metropolitan Opera live relay, October 2010

One cannot help feeling sympathy with Alberich as he cries out, “O Schmerz!” (What pain!), and Eric Owens sang and acted the role brilliantly. His dark, rich voice expressed his anguish and determination, …

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Radamisto, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, October 2010

On 27th April 1720, a month before his sixtieth birthday, King George I attended the opera with his son the Prince of Wales. They’d only recently reunited after not speaking to another for three years, so this was just the right opera to see.

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Les pêcheurs de perles, in concert, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, October 2010

As the evening warmed up we were treated to a very fine duet between Osborn and Cabell in Act II, and a lovely soliloquy by Finley in Act III.

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The Makropulos Case, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, September 2010

Emilia Marty, Ellian MacGregor, Eugenia Montez, Elsa Müller, Ekatěrina Myškin, all E.M., just like her original name Elina Makropulos. This beautiful woman, born in Crete to Hieronymos Makropulos, is now 339 years old but has not aged since she was 39.

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Faust, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, September 2010

Overall some lovely singing from Toby Spence and Melody Moore, but I left feeling underwhelmed.

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In the Penal Colony, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, September 2010

The music was rhythmically intense, as one would expect from Glass, and its energy carried the strange plot forward.

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Don Pasquale, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2010

It’s wonderful fun, and this Jonathan Miller production is a delight …

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Cosi fan tutte, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, September 2010

A theologian friend of mine tells me that when the angels perform for the new arrivals in heaven they play Bach, but en famille with God they play Mozart.

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Tristan und Isolde, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra, Festival Hall, September 2010

Esa-Pekka Salonen produced glorious sounds from the Philharmonia, giving us moments of explosive tension and of gentle lyricism.

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La Forza del Destino, Holland Park Opera, OHP, August 2010

I’ve always found [this] terrific stuff, and was delighted with the excellent musical direction by Stuart Stratford, whom I remember doing an equally fine job at Holland Park last summer with Katya Kabanova.

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Francesca da Rimini, Holland Park Opera, August 2010

Zandonai was a very talented composer, whom Puccini favoured for completing Turandot, though his son Tonio vetoed the choice and it went to Alfano. In this opera there is no release from the tension in the music, so what ought to be wonderful moments are lost in the overall fabric, and there is no clear focus.

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Die Walküre, Longborough Festival Opera, July 2010

… indeed the whole cast came over with supercharged energy, giving us a Walküre to treasure in anticipation of its reappearance in a full Ring during Wagner’s bi-centenary year.

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The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro), Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House, July 2010

Teddy Tahu Rhodes was particularly good as a strongly voiced yet surprisingly vulnerable Figaro. So often this character comes over as all too knowing, never seriously fearing for the loss of Susanna’s love, but here …

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La Fanciulla del West (Girl of the Golden West), Opera Australia, Sydney Opera House, July 2010

A good opera production eschews extraneous effects and irrelevant imagery, allowing the music and singing to convey the story directly to the audience, and this Nigel Jamieson production is a fine example.

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Don Giovanni, Glyndebourne, July 2010

Gerald Finley is the perfect Don, suave and brutal … both he and Luca Pisaroni as Leporello performed with an insouciance that gave the impression either one would happily shop the other if push came to shove.

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Die Meistersinger, in concert at the Proms, 17 July 2010

…Terfel gave a wonderfully nuanced performance. He built up gradually through Acts I and II, and in Act III his Wahn monologue was beautifully done, and he ended very strongly with his Verachtet mir die Meister nicht . . .

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Fidelio, Holland Park Opera, OHP, July 2010

Beethoven’s only opera is a plea for justice, an idealistic cri de coeur from a composer who originally wanted to dedicate his third symphony to his hero Napoleon, only to be vastly disappointed when the general declared himself emperor.

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Don Giovanni, Holland Park Opera, July 2010

This production by Stephen Barlow gives a clear and convincing take on the story … and Robert Dean did a very fine job conducting the City of London Sinfonia.

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Salome, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, July 2010

The evening belonged to Angela Denoke in the title role, and Hartmut Haenchen in the pit, who drew a mixture of gentle lyricism and immense power from the orchestra.

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Simon Boccanegra, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2010

It’s a sell-out, but if you can get hold of tickets, don’t hesitate. At the end the entire main floor gave it a standing ovation.

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Manon, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, June 2010

Laurent Pelly’s current Covent Garden production of La Fille du Régiment is wonderful, but I don’t think this opera should be played with the comic touch that he is so good at.

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Idomeneo, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, June 2010

… The music is wonderfully expressive of the conflicting emotions, and was superbly conducted by Edward Gardner …

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Capriccio, Grange Park Opera, June 2010

… what really made the evening was the superb singing of Susan Gritton as the Countess. Her soliloquy towards the end was mesmerising. I was bowled over.

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The Pearl Fishers, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, June 2010

Penny Woolcock’s fine production, with sets and costumes by Dick Bird and Kevin Pollard, gave a beautiful context for the story. As soon as the first bars of the prelude come from the orchestra we are treated to pearl divers sweeping down to the seabed through clear blue waters …

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Le Nozze di Figaro, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2010

it’s the performance that really counts, and we were lucky to have two superb men: Erwin Schrott as Figaro, and Mariusz Kwiecien as the Count. Along with Eri Nakamura as Susanna, their flawless singing and acting was an absolute delight.

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Billy Budd, Glyndebourne, May 2010

The music — and this is wonderfully powerful music by Britten — was brilliantly played by the London Philharmonic under the baton of Mark Elder.

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Tosca, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, May 2010

this production by Catherine Malfitano is, if I can put it this way, a singers’ production. It’s produced by a singer who fully understands the nuances of the characters and their interactions, and it allows the performers to give their best, which they certainly do.

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La Fille du Régiment, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2010

Then to top it all there was the beautiful musical direction of Bruno Campanella. His conducting had a rhythmic energy that received a spontaneous round of applause immediately after the overture

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La Traviata, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, May 2010

Mr. Hvorostovsky sang gloriously … it’s worth going to this brief run of five performances just to hear him. Both Ms. Jaho and Mr. Pirgu sang strongly after a rather nervous start …

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Armida, Metropolitan Opera live relay, April 2010

Renée Fleming … performs here with consummate skill and brilliant characterisation, very ably supported by Lawrence Brownlee as Rinaldo.

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Aida, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, April 2010

David McVicar’s new production strips away the Egyptian baggage and places events in an ancient time of masculine combat, female sexual energy, and human sacrifice.

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Il Turco in Italia, Royal Opera, April 2010

Rossini’s music is full of fun, and this production has a sense of spontaneity, as if it were Commedia dell’arte.

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Genoveva, University College Opera, UCL, Bloomsbury Theatre, March 2010

University College London have done a superb job of staging this work, continuing a tradition of putting on a relatively obscure opera every year for over half a century.

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The Cunning Little Vixen, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, March 2010

But this is an opera to be seen as well as heard, and William Dudley’s designs, along with the movement directed by Stuart Hopps, have a wonderful charm. Magical realism is …

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Katya Kabanova, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, March 2010

… this dark and theatrically powerful opera is a must-see, and you would have to go a long way to find better singing or conducting — they were both virtually unbeatable.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream, English Touring Opera, Sadler’s Wells, London, March 2010

While much of the music and action is on a rather ethereal level, an excellent contrast was created in this production by the interaction between Tytania and Bottom as a priapic ass.

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Tamerlano, Royal Opera, February 2010

Unfortunately [Domingo] was unavailable, but his replacement, Kurt Streit sang [Bazajet] superbly — one could not have asked for better.

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Satyagraha, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, February 2010

The production … has a rather ethereal quality, and as a friend of mine said, “I was left humming peaceful thoughts all the way home”.

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The Elixir of Love, English National Opera, ENO at the London Coliseum, February 2010

… Sarah Tynan singing beautifully as a charmingly shrewd Adina …

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The Gambler, Royal Opera, February 2010

In the last two productions I’ve seen … the stage has been darkly lit, in keeping with the coldness and scheming inherent in the story, but this production by … is quite different.

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Wagner at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, a retrospective, February 2010

Five Wagner operas in six days … was quite a marathon, but well worth it, particularly for three of the productions.

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

Rossini’s comment that, “Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour” was spoken before Die Meistersinger was created, and this opera has, for me, not a dull moment — it’s one glorious thing after another. Of course a determined director can spoil it, as happened at Bayreuth this past summer in Katharina Wagner’s diabolical production, …

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Tannhäuser, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

… what really made the evening was Stephen Gould’s Tannhäuser. He was forceful and articulate with a superb tone and strong stage presence. This is the sort of singer one wants as Tristan or Siegfried — Covent Garden please note.

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Der fliegende Holländer, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

I’m afraid Tatjana Gürbaca was not up to the job. She was probably more concerned with her own strange concept, in which the men were shown as financial traders, and the women as performers and party girls.

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Rienzi, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

In the second part … it all came together. The amateurish rise to power of the clown-like Rienzi is over. Here he is shown in his bunker on the ground level of the stage, with the people on the street level above.

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Lohengrin, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Wagner Wochen, February 2010

Friedrich’s excellent staging is well supported by the performers, particularly Waltraud Meier, who plays the evil Ortrud with subtle malice, and Eike Wilm Schulte, who portrays a fiercely tendentious Telramund with a commanding voice — this nasty pair both exhibit great stage presence.

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Simon Boccanegra, Metropolitan Opera live relay, February 2010

… she meets Boccanegra, finding out that he is her real father. This recognition scene was marvellously done, and I only wish I had seen it on stage …

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Lucia di Lammermoor, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, February 2010

Altogether, David Alden has created a particularly malicious take on the story, and it works.

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Carmen, Metropolitan Opera live relay, January 2010

At the end of this opera, Roberto Alagna as Don Jose made me think that here is the man who killed the gypsy, which says something about the success of this new production by Richard Eyre.

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Elektra, in concert with Valery Gergiev and the LSO, Barbican, January 2010

The name Elektra means ‘shining’ — as in the alloy electrum — and Gergiev with the LSO gave us a shining performance.

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Der Rosenkavalier, Metropolitan Opera live relay, January 2010

Renée Fleming’s … soliloquy on the passing of time in Act I was done with immense sensitivity and feeling. What a performer!

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Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Opera, a second view, December 2009.

However the trio at the end was gloriously sung, and well worth waiting for.

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Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Metropolitan Opera live relay, December 2009

Alan Held, Joseph Calleja, and … Kate Lindsey, were the driving forces behind this fine performance, well aided by James Levine in the orchestra pit.

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La Bohème, Royal Opera, December 2009

This production by John Copley, with designs by Susan Trevelyan Oman, suits the Royal Opera House perfectly. Its depiction of wintery cold in Paris combines well with the human warmth of the story, and our protagonists were young singers whose charm and vivacity gave a welcome freshness to this frequently performed opera. Note: this is …

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Review — Der Rosenkavalier, Royal Opera, December 2009

With Russian conductor Kirill Petrenko giving Strauss’s music more colour than I ever remember hearing, this was a musical feast.

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Review — The Tsarina’s Slippers, Royal Opera, November 2009

This sparkling production by Francesca Zambello has lovely set designs … includes serious ballet work, some electrifying Cossack dances and acrobatics …

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Turandot, Metropolitan Opera live relay, November 2009

… this opera was brilliantly performed. And it shows the Met to be setting a template for opera performance that puts into a shadow some of the more confusing and hyper-intellectual nonsense that one occasionally meets.

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Bluebeard’s Castle, and Rite of Spring, ENO, London Coliseum, November 2009

Clive Bayley sang an autistic and threatening Bluebeard, with Michaela Martens as a powerful Judith.

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Aida, Metropolitan Opera live relay, October 2009

… a heavy weight production well matched by the singers, who were superb.

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The Turn of the Screw, ENO, English National Opera, October 2009

With thirteen musicians in the pit, under the direction of Charles Makerras, the musical rendering could not be better

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Tosca, Metropolitan Opera live relay, New York, October 2009

This was a new production by Luc Bondy, with Karita Mattila as Tosca, Marcelo Alvarez as Cavaradossi, and George Gagnidze as Scarpia.

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Carmen, Royal Opera, October 2009

With Elina Garanča as Carmen, and Roberto Alagna as Don José, both entirely convincing in their parts and singing so powerfully, this was a glowing performance.

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Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera, October 2009

The orchestra performed with distinction under Antonio Pappano, and the Opera House had put together a superb cast, led by Nina Stemme as Isolde. She was terrific throughout, and in the Liebestod she rose effortlessly above the orchestra

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Rigoletto, ENO, English National Opera, September 2009

The jester, named Triboulet in Hugo’s play, becomes Rigoletto in the opera, and is surely one of Verdi’s great creations, sung here by Anthony Michaels-Moore, who played him with enormous sensitivity.

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Le Grand Macabre, ENO, English National Opera, September 2009

This musical work by Ligeti (1923–2006) is related to opera rather in the way a painting by Hieronymus Bosch is related to a landscape.

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Don Carlo, Royal Opera, September 2009

Imagine a Christian Taliban in Spain, putting men, women and children in Flanders — all heretics — to the sword.

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Linda di Chamounix, Royal Opera, September 2009

This was a concert performance, brilliantly conducted by Mark Elder, and the cast, headed by Elise Gutierrez as Linda, and Stephen Costello as gloriously voiced Carlo, was excellent.

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Rusalka, Glyndebourne, August 2009

…this was a revelation, and I congratulate Glyndebourne for putting it on.

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Mariinsky Opera and Ballet Visit to London, July/August 2009

This summer [the Mariinsky] brought to London the works of some great composers: Wagner’s Ring, and three great full-length ballets (two Tchaikovsky, one Prokofiev), along with a Balanchine triple bill.

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Tristan und Isolde, Glyndebourne, August 2009

This was Glyndebourne’s 2003 production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff,…[and] it works terrifically well, with a set by Roland Aeschlimann featuring a broken vortex of huge curved girders.

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Katya Kabanova, Holland Park Opera, August 2009

This performance was a team effort, led with great emotional sensitivity by Stuart Stratford in the orchestra pit.

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The Ring, Maryinsky Opera, London, July/August 2009

Valery Gergiev unfolded the music beautifully … never rushing, but never flagging

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Bayreuther Festspiele, July 2009

…this year’s production of Meistersinger was apparently even more ludicrous that last year’s.

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Tristan und Isolde, Bayreuther Festspiele, July 2009

On this first night of the 2009 Bayreuth festival, under the new direction of Eva Wagner-Pasquier and Katharina Wagner, we had the singers for the parts, but not the parts for the singers in this wretched production.

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Un Ballo in Maschera, Holland Park Opera, July 2009

The key scene in the opera is the midnight rendezvous between the king and Amelia, where they are surprised by Amelia’s husband Anckarstrom, and she veils her face.

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Review — Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera, July 2009

Ferruccio Furlanetto and Alessandro Corbelli are terrific singing actors with perfect comic timing, but what really made the evening was Joyce DiDonato as Rosina.

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Tosca, Royal Opera, July 2009

What really made this evening terrific was the riveting performance of Bryn Terfel as Scarpia.

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Review — L’Amour de loin, English National Opera, London Coliseum, July 2009

…based on a love poem by a famous troubadour from 12th century Aquitaine … a period when troubadours sang in the Provençal language of amor de lonh (distant love),

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Glyndebourne 75th Anniversary Concert, Glyndebourne, June 2009

It also featured others with a strong Glyndebourne connection, such as Gerald Finley, Sarah Connolly, Emma Bell, and Kate Royal, who were all in the Glyndebourne chorus at one time, along with such luminaries as Thomas Allen, Sergei Leiferkus, Felicity Lott, and Anne Sofie von Otter.

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Review — La Traviata, Royal Opera, June 2009

Renée Fleming gave a superbly sensitive performance as Violetta, brilliantly showing her fragility and death at the end, and Joseph Calleja sang like a god as Alfredo.

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Parthenogenesis, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, June 2009

The inspiration for this opera was far more striking than the result.

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Review — Lulu, Royal Opera, June 2009

At the end all three husbands reappear in different guises to help destroy Lulu, and Alwa and the Countess are killed in random violence involving Jack the Ripper.

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Roberto Devereux, Holland Park Opera, June 2009

For opening night on June 2, Joan Sutherland was in the audience and when people began to recognise her shortly before the start of the second half, there was a warming round of applause.

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Peter Grimes, English National Opera, London Coliseum, May 2009

…what really drove Britten’s masterpiece home was Stuart Skelton [as Grimes], Felicity Palmer [as Mrs. Sedley], the chorus, and the conductor Edward Gardner.

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La Cenerentola, live relay from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, May 2009

While Elina Garanča as Cenerentola … was the star of the show, Alessandro Corbelli [as Don Magnifico] was superb with his perfect comic timing

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Lohengrin, Royal Opera, April 2009

Johan Botha’s Heldentenor voice gave us a superb Lohengrin, with Edith Haller as a beautifully voiced Elsa … very well complemented by the wonderful singing of Petra Lang as Ortrud, and Gerd Grochowski as Telramund

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Il Trovatore, Royal Opera, April 2009

This was a terrific performance, with Sondra Radvanovsky and Roberto Alagna in superb voice as Leonora and Manrico.

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Dido and Aeneas by Purcell, and Acis and Galatea by Handel, Royal Opera, April 2009

Acis and Galatea is a beautiful work, musically speaking … composed as a pastoral serenata, which means it would be sung without elaborate staging, though the performers would probably have worn costumes … This staging by Wayne McGregor was frightfully elaborate, which I think detracted from the beauty of the work

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Macbeth, by Ernest Bloch, University College Opera, March 2009

Altogether this was well worth seeing, and I applaud University College Opera for putting it on.

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La Sonnambula, live cinema screening from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, March 2009

With Natalie Dessay and Juan Diego Flórez as the lovers Amina and Elvino, this promised to be a superb performance and it was.

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Madama Butterfly, live relay, Metropolitan Opera, New York, March 2009

This production by the late Anthony Minghella — perhaps the best Butterfly I’ve ever seen … portrayed the child as a puppet, which worked extremely well …

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Der Rosenkavalier, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Feb 2009

Daniela Sindram was the best Octavian I’ve ever seen, singing and acting the part of a young man to perfection. … Kurt Rydl’s portrayal of Baron Ochs was superbly natural, without over-acting or stepping over the line into farce, as sometimes happens with this part, and his singing was thoroughly engaging.

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Die Ägyptische Helena, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Feb 2009

This little-performed opera by Richard Strauss received a wonderful staging by Marco Arturo Marelli and his team.

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Cassandra by Vittorio Gnecchi, and Elektra by Richard Strauss, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Feb 2009

Cassandra, by the Italian composer Gnecchi, was written four years before Stauss’s Elektra. It tells of Agamemnon’s return to his wife Klytemnestra, who intends to kill him as revenge for his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia …

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Ariadne auf Naxos, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Feb 2009

This imaginative and coherent production by Robert Carson sets the opera in modern times, complete with a mobile phone at one point, and it’s the only time I’ve seen the richest man in Vienna actually appear on stage.

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Salome, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Feb 2009

I felt sorry for Manuela Uhl as Salome, because she didn’t come over well until the final scene, and was given no dance.

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Lucia di Lammermoor, live cinema screening, Metropolitan Opera, New York, Feb 2009

Her domineering brother Enrico was brilliantly portrayed by Mariusz Kwiecien, showing a nastiness that made one wish him dead.

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Magic Flute, English National Opera, January 2009

The star of the show was Roderick Williams as a wonderfully engaging Papageno in superb voice.

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Die Tote Stadt, Royal Opera, January 2009

In this imaginative production by Willy Decker, Paul was strongly sung by Stephen Gould, and Marie/Marietta by Nadja Michael, who did a superb job of the part, teasingly sexy, both as girlfriend and among her acting troupe

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The Beggar’s Opera by Benjamin Britten, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, Jan 2009

The failure of Britten’s composition might have been alleviated by the production team, led by Justin Way, but the deliberately ham acting and garish costumes were over the top, and the production did not fit the style of Britten’s music.

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Orfeo ed Euridice, live cinema screening from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Jan 2009

The best thing about this performance was the beautiful singing of Stephanie Blythe as Orfeo, and the conducting of Gluck’s wonderful music by James Levine.

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La Rondine, live relay from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Jan 2009

La Rondine hovers uneasily between opera and operetta … a lively courtesan wants to see what true romance is really like, so she falls in love; but being unable to explain her history to her lover, she reluctantly returns to her life as a courtesan. It’s a wonderful vehicle for the soprano, and Angela Gheorghiu sang the main role of Magda beautifully, looking and acting the part to perfection.

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Thaïs, live cinema screening from the Metropolitan Opera, New York, Dec 2008.

Renee Fleming was Thaïs, and Thomas Hampson was Athanaël. They were wonderful — she was glorious as a great courtesan, and as a convent sister in the desert, while he gave a strong portrayal of a repressed fundamentalist Christian, struggling to contain his own desires.

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Salome, in a live cinema screening from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Oct 2008

Karita Mattila gave an excellent performance of the title role, and Juha Uusitalo was superb as John the Baptist, drawing deep power from mysterious sources.

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Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Royal Opera, November 2008

Olympia was sung and acted to perfection by Ekaterina Lekhina … and I shall always remember this as the highlight of the evening.

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Dr. Atomic, live cinema screening from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Nov 2008

The music by John Adams is wonderful, but the libretto by Peter Sellars falls far short of expressing the potential drama of this story. As a piece of theatre this opera fails …

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Tamerlano, live cinema screening from Madrid, October 2008

Placido Domingo was wonderful as Bajazet, full of emotion and determination, and Monica Bacelli was superb as Tamerlano, looking and acting the part in the way Handel surely intended.

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