Tag Archives: review

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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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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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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Royal Ballet Mixed Bill: The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude/ Tarantella/ Strapless/ Symphonic Dances, ROH, Covent Garden, May 2017

The main focus of this mixed bill is its final item, Liam Scarlett’s new work to Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. The abundant melody of this 1940 composition allows ideas to emerge in and around each other, skilfully expressed in Scarlett’s choreography. For the forces of nature in this music, brilliantly conducted by Koen Kessels, Scarlett and …

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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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Mayerling, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2017

In January 1889, fifty years into the reign of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, his son and heir Crown Prince Rudolf died in an apparent suicide pact at the Mayerling hunting lodge with his new mistress Mary Vetsera. In late 1916 Franz Joseph’s death after a reign of 68 years ended an era wonderfully brought to …

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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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Royal Ballet Triple: The Human Seasons/ After the Rain/ Flight Pattern, ROH, March 2017

This wonderful triple bill of modern ballets sees revivals of two very successful works and a new ballet by Crystal Pite, all superbly conducted by Koen Kessels. First came David Dawson’s Human Seasons, inspired by Keats’s poem that refers to human life in terms of its spring, summer, autumn and winter. Dawson refers to a …

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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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Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet, ROH, February 2017

The second run of Sleeping Beauty this season started in grand style with Marianela Nuñez as Princess Aurora and Vadim Muntagirov as her prince, and a cast close to that for the live cinema relay at the end of the month. In Act I Nuñez showed the thrill of a teenager at her own coming …

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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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Anastasia, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, October 2016

In 1971 when Kenneth MacMillan produced this three-act ballet — following an earlier creation in Berlin of what became the final act — there was still uncertainty about whether the main character had once been Russian Grand Duchess Anastasia, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II. Now there is none, but the ballet retains its grip …

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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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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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La Fille mal gardée, with Morera and Muntagirov, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2016

The setting of this ‘late-summer’ ballet with its wealthy farmer, hay bales and young peasants makes a great season opener, with Morera and Muntagirov repeating their excellent Lisa and Colas from April last year. As dawn breaks, Tristan Dyer’s cockerel and his hens opened the performance in fine style, before Morera and Muntagirov’s beautifully gentle …

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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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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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Roméo et Juliette, Berlioz, BBC Proms, Prom 20, Royal Albert Hall, 30 July 2016.

This remarkable choral symphony is a broader and deeper work than the composer’s earlier and oft-played Symphonie fantastique. Based on David Garrick’s mid-eighteenth century version of Shakespeare’s play, which held the stage for some hundred years, its seven parts start with an overview of the heady emotions involved, and end with reconciliation between Montagues and …

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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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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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Royal Ballet Triple: Obsidian Tear/ The Invitation/ Within the Golden Hour, ROH, Covent Garden, May 2016

Royal Ballet triple bills rarely begin with a new ballet, but this one started with the world premiere of Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear to a half-hour orchestral piece by Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen. Salonen, better known as a conductor, takes up the baton to direct his own music, named Nyx after the Greek goddess of the …

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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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Frankenstein, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, May 2016

Liam Scarlett’s interest in German myth and murderous intrigue, already apparent in his ballets Hansel and Gretel and Sweet Violets, now finds its full flowering in Mary Shelley’s 1818 story of Victor Frankenstein. This meditation on loss, the yearning for love, and fear of the outsider shows the folly of taking on oneself the gods’ …

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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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Winter’s Tale, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2016

Christopher Wheeldon’s representation of this Shakespeare play, where King Leontes of Sicilia goes insane with jealousy, only recovering after the damage is done and then many years later seeing the younger generation sort out the mess their elders have made, is a marvellous evocation of the story presented in fine Shakespearean style. A painting is …

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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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Giselle, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, February 2016

For the opening night in this new run of Giselle, Sarah Lamb took over the title role at short notice from Natalia Osipova and delivered a flawless performance. Her emotional energy and light, floating steps in Act I portrayed the slightly out-of-this world girl she represents before her beautifully executed mad scene, and in Act …

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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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Wheeldon Triple: After the Rain/ Strapless/ Within the Golden Hour, Royal Ballet, February 2016

This was the first outing at Covent Garden for each of these three ballets, and for Christopher Wheeldon’s new narrative work Strapless a world premiere, framed here by the two abstract pieces. The first, After the Rain is a lovely ballet in two sections to music by Arvo Pärt, premiered by the New York City …

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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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Royal Ballet: Rhapsody/ Two Pigeons, ROH, Covent Garden, January 2016

Under Artistic Director Kevin O’Hare the Royal Ballet is thankfully giving more time to the choreography of Frederick Ashton, a genius at creating movement attuned to the music. He originally created Rhapsody for the Queen Mother’s eightieth birthday in 1980, to be danced by Baryshnikov, and in this performance its quick darting steps and rapid …

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Le Corsaire, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2016

English National Ballet’s Corsaire marks a tremendous achievement for Tamara Rojo since her appointment as artistic director less than four years ago. The staging by Anna-Marie Holmes, complemented by Gavin Sutherland’s musical rearrangement, provides thrilling male choreography fully realised in this performance by the four principal male dancers. Ms Rojo has brought in men well …

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Elizabeth, Royal Ballet, ROH Linbury Studio, Covent Garden, January 2016

This ballet on the life and loves of Elizabeth I, originally shown in 2013 at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich, is now making a well deserved appearance at the Royal Opera House. It is a remarkable creation by Will Tuckett, with text and co-direction by Alasdair Middleton, and music by Martin Yates. Yates has …

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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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The Nutcracker, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, December 2015

This Christmas sees the Royal Ballet reviving Nutcracker — absent last year in favour of Don Q and Alice — in the Peter Wright production that has been with the Company for over thirty years. Yet it still looks entirely fresh, as did the dancers on opening night with Francesca Hayward and Alexander Campbell making …

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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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Royal Ballet Double Bill: Monotones I and II, The Two Pigeons, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2015

Why were there inexpensive empty seats? This is a wonderful mixed bill of Ashton ballets, including his delightful Two Pigeons featuring Jacques Dupont’s glorious set with its window to the city and sky of Paris beautifully lit by Peter Teigen. Yet before this colourful drama of two lovers reunited after one flies the nest, we …

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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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Royal Ballet Mixed Bill: Viscera/ Afternoon of a Faun/ Tchaikovsky pas-de-deux/ Carmen, ROH, Covent Garden, October 2015

The big draw of the evening was Carlos Acosta’s new Carmen, but the three preceding ballets, all superbly danced, were arguably worth the whole evening. Liam Scarlett’s Viscera made a welcome return after its first performances three years ago, with Leticia Stock and Nehemiah Kish in the tranquil pas-de-deux that shows the tentative attraction between …

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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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Romeo and Juliet, with McRae and Lamb, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2015

Things are looking up at the Royal Ballet with new music director Koen Kessels. From the first bars it was clear that a new hand was at work, and his conducting on the opening night of the Company’s new season put recent musical performances deservedly into the shadows. At the end of the first Act …

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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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Firebird, Boulez, Ravel, Prom 36, BBC Proms, Albert Hall, 12 August 2015

Programming at the Proms can be outstanding, and this was a case in point. Starting with Boulez’ Figures – Doubles – Prismes for an evening whose climax is Firebird was an inspired choice. An article in the programme describes this piece for three ensembles — appearing on stage as a single orchestra — as a …

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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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Mack and Mabel, Chichester Festival Theatre, CFT, July 2015

What a wonderful breath of fresh air — an ultimately tragic story but brimming with self-confidence, energy and sparkle. How very different from the recent Covent Garden production of Rossini’s William Tell where superb music and singing was ruined by a flat-footed production team trying to be intellectual. Real cleverness relies on stagecraft, lighting and …

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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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La fille mal gardée, with McRae and Osipova, Royal Ballet, ROH, April 2015

Inspired by a mid-eighteenth century painting, Jean Dauberval first created this ballet in 1789, and it was premiered in Bordeaux two weeks before the storming of the Bastille. Two years later it was presented in London where the musicians wrote ribald comments on the pastiche score, though that all changed in 1828 when a student …

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La fille mal gardée, with Muntagirov and Morera, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2015

Wonderful freshness and vitality from the whole company in this revival of Ashton’s delightful ballet, and Vadim Muntagirov as Colas was perfection. His deft technique and control — and those glorious split jumps in second — combined with a boyish charm made him an irresistible foil to Laura Morera’s quietly understated Lisa. The idyllic happiness …

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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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Swan Lake, with Osipova and Golding, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, February 2015

The performance on 21 February was the best I’ve seen so far in the present run, not least because Boris Gruzin in the orchestra pit gave a superb rendering of Tchaikovsky’s score. It was far better than the brash energy of the first night — given no doubt after insufficient rehearsal time, since Gruzin has …

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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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Taken at Midnight, Theatre Royal Haymarket, January 2015

This debut play by Mark Hayhurst about the viciousness inherent in the early days of the Nazi regime began its West End production in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day, after a highly successful start in Jonathan Church’s gripping production at Chichester last summer. It illustrates the Nazi regime in its very early days, through …

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Onegin, with Nuñez and Soares, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, January 2015

For John Cranko’s 1960s take on Pushkin’s verse narrative the husband and wife partnership of Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares is about as perfect as it gets. The tearing up of one another’s letters — a Cranko innovation absent from Pushkin, where Onegin rejects her advances in a far gentler way — was effected with cool …

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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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Swan Lake, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2015

Peter Farmer’s wonderful designs for ENB’s Swan Lake, beautifully lit by Howard Harrison, suggest a world of mystery behind the real world of courtly conformity, all brought to life by Tchaikovsky’s music under the excellent baton of Gavin Sutherland. The dancers respond magnificently, and the Company’s ensemble work is showing glorious precision. The swans of …

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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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Nutcracker, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, December 2014

The great charm of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s original story is the interplay between the real and imaginary worlds of Clara’s life, both inhabited by her beloved godfather Drosselmeyer. This production emphasises Drosselmeyer’s ambiguous role in his pursuit of a dancing butterfly in the Act II mirliton section, but the clever main idea is to …

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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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Don Quixote, with Nuñez and Acosta, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, November 2014

What joy to see Carlos Acosta and Marianela Nuñez in a beautifully rehearsed first cast for this year’s revival of Acosta’s new Don Q. Gone was the tension of the Gala opening last year, and from their first appearance in Act I he made a superb young Basilio, with Nuñez on fire as his beloved …

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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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The Imitation Game, movie released November 2014

As mathematics undergraduates in the 1960s we heard about Turing machines — hypothetical devices that can manipulate symbols on an infinite tape — but learned nothing about Alan Turing, whose work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War remained unknown to anyone outside the inner core of the security services. Visiting there four years …

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Royal Ballet Triple Bill: Ceremony of Innocence, Age of Anxiety, Aeternum, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, October 2014

This triple bill takes us from the loss of childhood innocence to the memory of parents passed away, ideas that frame the first and third items, both to music of Benjamin Britten. Ceremony of Innocence appears in W B Yeats’ poem The Second Coming as ‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned’, a line that Britten …

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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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Royal Ballet Mixed Bill: Scènes de ballet, Five Brahms Waltzes, Symphonic Variations, Month in the Country, Covent Garden, October 2014

Four Ashton ballets in one evening — what a spoil. The first and third created just after the Second World War, the other two in 1976. Scénes de ballet is a perfect opener. Stravinsky’s music, originally commissioned for a Broadway revue, was conducted with suitable astringency by Emmanuel Plasson, making a striking contrast to one …

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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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BRB Triple—Shadows of War: La Fin du Jour, Miracle in the Gorbals, Flowers of the Forest, Birmingham Royal Ballet, October 2014

This triple bill is aptly titled, starting as it does with the bouncy laziness of a summer’s day in the 1930s before World War II, and ending with David Bintley’s excellent Flowers of the Forest, whose two parts contrast light with darkness, to music by Arnold and Britten. The hedonism of La Fin du Jour …

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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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Manon, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, September 2014

First seen in March 1974 this ballet has aged beautifully, and opening night of the current run fully recaptured the vivacity and despair of the story. Marianela Nuñez’s subtle development of Manon’s character, from the gentle grace of her first entrance in Act I to the femme dangereuse of Act II and eventually the victim …

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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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Solo for Two, Osipova and Vasiliev, London Coliseum, August 2014.

Want to know the back story for Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis in Giselle? In Facada, the final item of this triple bill, choreographer Arthur Pita shows a bride having been jilted at the altar finally destroying her man and dancing on his grave. This merciless ending is a fitting one to an evening that …

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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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Coppélia, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, July 2014

ENB’s Coppélia is not only a huge bundle of fun, but Delibes’ music really found its heart under the baton of music director Gavin Sutherland. Sometimes dancers are let down by indifferent conducting, but Sutherland coaxes a sensitive, loving performance from his orchestra, with real bounce when needed. Sets and costumes are a delight, and …

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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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Peter Grimes, Grange Park Opera, June 2014

Having heard negative comments from one friend about Jeremy Sams’s new production of Grimes, and from another that it was first rate, I was intrigued to see for myself. Sets and costumes were reliably authentic from a time somewhere in the late nineteenth/ early twentieth century, and the superb video illusion of the sea rippling to …

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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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Romeo and Juliet with Acosta and Rojo, English National Ballet, ENB, Albert Hall, June 2014

Ballet in the round has its advantages, particularly the greater scope for patterns when playing to all sides of the auditorium. These can involve lots of dancers, or just a few as in early Act III with the Capulet parents, Paris, Juliet and her nurse interweaving in an intriguing way. You need a little height …

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Pressure, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, CFT, June 2014

Pressure indeed! The biggest amphibious landing in history was scheduled for 5th June 1944, but it would be madness to go ahead if the weather were against it. Waves of 6 to 10 feet were difficult, but possible, to deal with. Anything more was impossible, the landing craft would overturn, and the air force would be …

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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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Royal Ballet Triple: The Dream/ Connectome/ The Concert, May 2014

The clever mockery in the first and third items in this excellent triple bill contrasted well with the brilliant new ballet by Alastair Marriott that lay between them. Connectome is named after a scientific term referring to the neural connections of a brain — in other words its ‘wiring diagram’ — and though only that …

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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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Royal Ballet Triple: Serenade/ Sweet Violets/ DGV, Covent Garden, May 2014

Liam Scarlett’s dark narrative ballet Sweet Violets was beautifully framed here by Balanchine’s Serenade and Wheeldon’s Danse à grande vitesse. The Balanchine work, his first in America, originated from a series of evening classes he gave in New York, the seventeen girls at the start being the number who attended the first class. Among sixteen …

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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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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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Winter’s Tale, Gartside and Nuñez, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, 16 April 2014

This was the first performance by the second cast, originally scheduled for last Saturday but postponed due to lack of rehearsal time. Second cast it may have been, but prima ballerina Marianela Nuñez gave a beautifully nuanced performance of Hermione filled with emotional expression. Her solo in Act I, with her husband Leontes (Bennet Gartside) …

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Winter’s Tale, Royal Ballet, ROH, Covent Garden, April 2014

For Christopher Wheeldon to take on Shakespeare is a bold move. The words are of huge importance, but so they are in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, which Wheeldon successfully produced as a ballet three years ago, and when he expressed an interest in tackling the Bard at that time, Nicholas Hytner suggested Winter’s Tale. …

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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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Lest We Forget, English National Ballet, ENB, Barbican, April 2014

One hundred years after the start of The Great War, this commemoration of its horrors opened at the Barbican last night with three new ballets specially commissioned by artistic director Tamara Rojo. The evening started with Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land connecting women at home with their men at war via the factory work of …

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Sleeping Beauty, Choe and Golding, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, 27 March 2014

Tonight Natalia Osipova was supposed to have made her role debut for the Company as Princess Aurora, but a day earlier she fell in rehearsals and was hospitalised. Her replacement, Yuhui Choe was the star of the evening, sensational in the Rose Adagio of Act I, looking her princes in the eye and moving with …

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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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Kings of the Dance, London Coliseum, March 2014

This feast of male dancing, brought to the London Coliseum by impresario Sergei Danilian, is carried off by five of the World’s finest, including the extraordinary Ivan Vasiliev. His solo performance in Labyrinth of Solitude, with fabulous leaps and spins in the air, inspired a standing ovation, and was immediately followed by the evening’s finale, …

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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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Sleeping Beauty, with Choe and Hirano, and Lamb and McRae, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, 13 March 2014

What a huge pleasure to see Yuhui Choe and Ryoichi Hirano in the main roles at the matinee. Her dancing, so full of joy, was absolutely on the music, and a better Rose Adagio one could hardly hope for. With Hirano’s noble and dashing Prince their partnership gave a beautiful expression of the story, helped …

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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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Sleeping Beauty, with Cuthbertson and Golding, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, 22 February 2014

This is a brief review of the Saturday matinee on 22nd February, in which Matthew Golding made a wonderful replacement for Rupert Pennefather as the Prince. The easy grace of his entrance in Act II, followed by his solo adagio exhibited a glorious lightness of being, complemented by an air of quiet authority as he …

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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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Royal Ballet Triple: Rhapsody/ Tetractys—The Art of Fugue/ Gloria, Covent Garden, February 2014

When Frederick Ashton choreographed Rhapsody to Rachmaninov’s Variations on a theme by Paganini he created the principal male role on Mikhail Baryshnikov, and the quick darting steps were sublimely performed here by Steven McRae. He has the power, he has the leaps, and his fast chainés towards the end were stunning. It was an extraordinary …

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Kindertransport, Richmond Theatre, February 2014

This gripping play is about mothers and daughters, loss and recovery, escape and belonging. It’s about letting go and moving on. Two colleagues I knew who were on the final Kindertransport from Vienna on 1 September 1939 never spoke of it. After one of them died, his wife of fifty years went through his papers …

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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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The Pride, Richmond Theatre, January 2014

On the face of it this is a play about the suppression and expression of homosexual feelings in men. But it strikes deeper than that by exploring how we come to terms with who we really are, and how our lives interact with those of others. The main protagonists are Philip and Oliver, but in …

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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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Giselle, with Osipova and Acosta, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, January 2014

Out of this world — Natalia Osipova took us to realms where dance and emotion combine into an ethereal unity. The easy grace of her first appearance in Act I drew distant kisses from Carlos Acosta, and I have rarely seen young love so beautifully expressed in this role. As Act I moves forward the …

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Le Corsaire, with Rojo and Golding, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, 11 January 2014

Congratulations to artistic director Tamara Rojo for overseeing the ENB’s hugely entertaining production of Le Corsaire. Its central section is the pirates’ lair of Act II where Medora foils the assassination of her beloved Conrad by his Lieutenant Birbanto, following gloriously exuberant dancing by the lovers and Conrad’s slave Ali. The thrilling choreography for Ali …

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Le Corsaire, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, 9 January 2014

Britain now has its very own version of Le Corsaire, and what a wonderful romp it is. To the original score by Adolphe Adam, composer of Giselle, producers have almost always interpolated additional material by Pugni, Drigo et al, and what ENB have given us is a pot pourri of glorious music, excitingly played under …

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Nutcracker, with Osipova and Bonelli, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, 27 December 2013

Christmas feasting may have affected the orchestra, but certainly not the dancers in this 27th December performance. The party scene in Act I was full of joie de vivre, with Gary Avis as a magical Drosselmeyer. The élan of his conjuring tricks was matched by the liveliness of Valentino Zucchetti as his assistant, and the …

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Jewels, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2013

The high point of this first evening was the big pas-de-deux for Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares in Diamonds, in which she brought a fairy tale quality to this abstract yet sublimely romantic third section of Balanchine’s Jewels. The music is from Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony, his last composition before Swan Lake, and the ballerina exhibits …

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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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Henry V, with Jude Law, Noël Coward Theatre, December 2013

“O for a muse of fire … a kingdom for a stage, princes to act …”. And though they were but actors all, confined to the stage of the Noël Coward Theatre, this Michael Grandage production came over with conviction. The heavy weathered boards of which sets and stage was made gave a feeling of …

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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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Romeo and Juliet, with Acosta and Osipova, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, November 2013

Having now joined the Royal Ballet as a Company member rather than a guest artist, Natalia Osipova’s performance of Juliet was much anticipated. Her technique and dramatic flair served her well, particularly in the final scene of Act III when her body crumpled like a rag doll in Carlos Acosta’s arms. It was a fine …

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Medea, Actors of Dionysus, Rose Theatre, Kingston, November 2013

At the end of this play, Helios the sun god comes to Medea’s rescue, carrying her through the air in a chariot from Corinth to Athens. This deus ex machina pulls her out from certain death in a city where her sorcery has killed its king and his only daughter, destroyed her ex-husband Jason’s plans …

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Royal Ballet Triple: Chroma/ The Human Seasons/ Rite of Spring, Covent Garden, November 2013

The world premiere in this triple bill was the second ballet by David Dawson, making his Royal Ballet debut as a choreographer. I know someone who skipped the first item, and another who skipped the third, but both were in full anticipation of the second and neither was disappointed. The evening started with Wayne McGregor’s …

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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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Romeo and Juliet, with McRae and Obraztsova, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2013

For dancing and characterisation of the roles this second performance in the current run was close to perfection. Steven McRae and Evgenia Obraztsova, guest principal from the Bolshoi Ballet, took us to an ethereal world beyond technique. When we first encounter her with her nurse she charmed us with her airy grace, and her sweetness …

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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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BRB Triple: E=mc2, Tombeaux, Still Life at the Penguin Café, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, October 2013

After a 20-minute delay caused by computer problems — oh, for the days when stage equipment at Sadler’s Wells could be operated by hand — this excellent triple bill of David Bintley ballets proved well worth the wait. In the first, Bintley uses Einstein’s equation E=mc2, expressing the equivalence of energy E and mass m, …

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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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Don Quixote, with McRae and Salenko, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2013

When Carlos Acosta’s new Don Quixote opened at the end of September, most critics were cautiously optimistic but only gave it three stars. Making the opening performance a Gala may have been a good idea for ticket receipts but not for the dancers, and nothing really gelled until the final scene. By contrast, last night’s …

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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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Don Quixote, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, 30 September 2013

The Royal Opera House knows how to put on a celebration, and on this Gala opening for Carlos Acosta’s new version of Don Quixote the House was decked with hundreds of red carnations. As the ballet ended scores of flowers were thrown down onto the stage, a fitting end to the final scene, in which …

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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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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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Joseph Calleja sings Verdi, BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, September 2013

Glorious singing from Maltese tenor Joseph Calleja in Prom 72 with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi under their chief conductor Xian Zhang. The theme of the concert was anguish and despair, well suiting Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony in the second half. Manfred, based on Byron’s poem of the same name, bears a burden of …

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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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The Pitmen Painters, Richmond Theatre, August 2013

The best way to do comedy is to take it seriously, and while the topic of this play is entirely serious, I don’t remember laughing so much for a long time. The first half is hilarious. Told that a potential sponsor, Miss Sutherland is interested in modern art, one miner’s response, “Well, you’ve come to …

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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, who refuses to marry the woman chosen for him, and the solution to this problem is …

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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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Mayerling, with Acosta and Benjamin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2013

Retiring from the Royal Ballet this season is Leanne Benjamin, who made her debut with the Company as Mary Vetsera in Mayerling in 1992. She rounds off an immensely varied career by including the same role, and what a performance she gave last night. With Carlos Acosta in the dark role of Crown Prince Rudolf, …

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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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Palamedes, by Euripides, Actors of Dionysus, May 2013

Euripides’ play The Trojan Women is the final part of a trilogy, whose first two parts are largely lost. Yet we know their main themes, and David Stuttard’s recreation of the second part follows that of the first part, given six months ago by AOD at the same venue, Europe House, London. The first part, …

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Raven Girl/ Symphony in C, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2013

Choreographer Wayne McGregor’s strength is as a visual artist, and this ballet is based on a fairy tale by Audrey Niffenegger, a novelist and visual artist. A postman falls in love with a raven that gives birth to their child the Raven Girl, who yearns to be bird rather than human. Despite the range of …

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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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La Bayadère, with Acosta, Nuñez, Kobayashi, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2013

This marvellous classical ballet by Petipa, in a three-act version by Makarova, provides scope for alternative portrayals of the main roles, and the ones given on May 14 by Acosta, Nuñez and Kobayashi gelled beautifully. Carlos Acosta as Solor came over as a decent fellow placed in an impossible position by Christopher Saunders as the …

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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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Hansel and Gretel, Royal Ballet, ROH Linbury Studio, May 2013

Entering the Linbury Studio you go downstairs — the whole venue is underground, as is the witch’s kitchen in Liam Scarlett’s new dark version of Hansel and Gretel, where the children are tied up in a dungeon. Scarlett’s ballet is set in 1950s America, and by coincidence the big news story of the moment concerns …

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Passion Play, Duke of York’s Theatre, May 2013

“My opinion is that most people come to grief for expecting too much of one another”, says Zoë Wanamaker’s Eleanor near the beginning of Peter Nichols’ 1981 play about marriage, adultery, and dare I say it … love. Certainly she doesn’t seem to expect too much of Owen Teale as her husband James. He on …

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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 Tempest, Globe Theatre, May 2012

This Jeremy Herrin production grabs our attention with a great bang at the start … followed by the storm at sea with passengers and crew swaying and falling on the tilting deck of a ship, despite the fixed stage. Imagination? Indeed. And my lasting impression is the contrast between the bewitched characters, with their ready …

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The Breadwinner, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, April 2013

People are trapped by the expectations of society, and it can take a dramatic rupture from convention to move on with your life. This was something Somerset Maugham dealt with in his 1916 novel The Moon and Sixpence, published when he was forty-two, which is precisely the age of Charlie Battle in this play. Maugham …

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Ecstasy and Death, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, April 2013

This intriguing triple bill is the first programme artistic director Tamara Rojo has put together for the Company, and she even dances in it herself. The second item Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is worth the whole programme, and on the first night Rojo was the coolly callous young woman, with Nicolas le Riche, …

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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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Laurencia, with Osipova and Vasiliev, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum, April 2013

Soviet Realism meets Don Quixote, with the good Don replaced by an evil Commander whom the peasants destroy. He abducts the beautiful Laurencia, imprisoning her lover Frondoso, and there is a nasty sexual assault by two soldiers on a peasant named Jacinta. The women are both badly used and emerge with dirty torn skirts, but …

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Don Quixote, with Osipova and Vasiliev, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum, March 2013

For classical ballet in glorious costumes with plenty of bouncy music it is hard to equal Don Quixote, and the Mikhailovsky Ballet did us proud with the feast they served up at the London Coliseum. The feel-good music by Minkus, plus some additions by Drigo, is a favourite of pianists in ballet class, and Lanchbery …

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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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Giselle, with Osipova and Vasiliev, Mikhailovsky Ballet, London Coliseum, March 2013

What a pleasure this was. I’ve not seen the Mikhailovsky Giselle before, but it’s a fine production created in 2007 by Nikita Dolgushin, with excellent designs by Vyacheslav Okunev well lit by Mikhail Mekler. And the orchestra under Valery Ovsyanikov played with huge spirit, giving a performance far better than some of his work with …

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Peter and Alice, Noël Coward Theatre, March 2013

Imagine yourself, as a child, the subject of a book — the protagonist in a series of whimsical adventures that happen around you. How would it affect your future life? Being true to yourself and dispensing with the image formed by millions of readers may be hard. And does it make any difference whether you’re …

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Aladdin, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB, London Coliseum, March 2013

While Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland plays at Covent Garden, the Birmingham Royal Ballet brings David Bintley’s new Aladdin to the London Coliseum. The former is sold out, and the latter deserves to be too, because both are equally great fun though entirely different. Aladdin is a ripping yarn based on those Tales of the Arabian …

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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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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with Sarah Lamb, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2013

This cleverly whimsical ballet, reflecting the essence of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, provides stage magic for the whole family. You don’t need any experience of ballet to appreciate the various vignettes, including the Adagio for the Queen of Hearts and four playing cards in Act III, a wicked take on the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty. …

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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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Royal Ballet Triple: Apollo/ 24 Preludes/ Aeternum, Covent Garden, February 2013

Two completely new ballets, plus one staple from the Balanchine repertoire, made a very well judged triple bill. Alexei Ratmansky’s dances to Chopin’s 24 Preludes were sandwiched between the ethereal Apollo, and Christopher Wheeldon’s powerful new creation to Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. More on that later, but first to Apollo. Patricia Neary’s staging goes back to Balanchine’s …

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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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Ashton Mixed Bill, with Yanowsky and Bonelli, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, February 2013

This review is for the cast on the second night, and what a treat it was again to have Emmanuel Plasson as maestro for this delightful mixed bill of short Aston pieces. As a serious conductor who is happy to perform ballet music he showed a sure touch with orchestra, instrumental soloists and dancers. Musically, Plasson is ideal for …

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Ashton Mixed Bill, with Rojo and Polunin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, February 2013

This was Tamara Rojo’s evening, ending with a lovely bouquet of flowers for her — making up for their lack of such tributes in her last days with the Company, after accepting the artistic directorship of the ENB. In Ashton’s take on The Lady of the Camellias, she was a captivating Marguerite, glamorous and consumptive, showing fine textures …

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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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Onegin, with Reilly and Cojocaru, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, January 2013

This performance on January 23 showed an interesting difference of interpretation from the previous evening with a cast led by Bonelli and Morera. In her Act III pas-de-deux with Prince Gremin, Alina Cojocaru expressed a wistful sadness as she floated almost semi-consciously across the stage, quite different from Laura Morera’s joyful serenity in the same duet. …

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Onegin, with Bonelli and Morera, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, January 2013

After John Cranko worked on the choreography for Tchaikovsky’s opera he wanted to turn the story into a ballet, which he later did in Stuttgart. Apparently he intended to use music from the opera, but the Stuttgart Ballet commissioned a score by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, using alternative music by Tchaikovsky. The resulting creation is rather different from the opera, …

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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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Sleeping Beauty with Rojo and Muntagirov, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2013

Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Sleeping Beauty, with its glorious costumes by Nicholas Geogiardis, is a joy to watch, the sets by Peter Farmer reflecting a mistiness in the world beyond the action like some famous Renaissance paintings. The expression of the action is crystal clear in its use of mime, and for anyone unfamiliar with the conventions a helpful …

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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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Firebird/ In the Night/ Raymonda Act III, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2012

What a terrific triple bill this is, and on the evening of 29 December it was beautifully danced. Among cast changes in Raymonda, Zenaida Yanowsky and Ryoichi Hirano replaced Nuñez and Pennefather in the main roles, and Ricardo Cervera replaced Whitehead in the Hungarian dance. Cervera showed a fine cutting edge and dramatic sense, and his …

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Royal Ballet Triple: Firebird, In The Night, Raymonda Act III, Covent Garden, December 2012

A triple bill ending with the third act of Raymonda is a fine complement to Nutcracker for the Christmas/ New Year period. Raymonda has a wonderful finale with stunning costumes, and the sets drew audience applause when the curtain opened. With fifteen soloists including the principals, Zenaida Yanowsky and Nehemiah Kish on this occasion, it is …

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Sauce for the Goose, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, December 2012

Just the ticket for the Christmas season, this Feydeau farce is huge fun. The driving force is marital infidelity, real and imagined, and what’s sauce for the goose is … Bedroom doors opening, closing, locking and unlocking, … all done in the round — how is it possible? The answer is doorless doors, working very cleverly with noises off, …

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The Nutcracker with Klimentová and Muntagirov, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, December 2012

The clever concept behind English National Ballet’s Nutcracker is not that the toy comes to life, but that in Clara’s mind he takes on the form of Drosselmeyer’s handsome nephew, seen in a blue uniform at the party in Act I. After the death of the Mouse King, which occurs in Act II of this production, the …

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The Nutcracker with Nuñez and Soares, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2012.

At the start of this Peter Wright production, we see Drosselmeyer in his workshop comparing his toy Nutcracker with a portrait on the wall of his lost nephew. Then at the very end, where some productions show Clara being put to bed by her mother, the Nutcracker prince finds his Uncle Drosselmeyer and they embrace. …

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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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Love’s Comedy, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, November 2012

When Ibsen was about 21 he fell in love with Clara Ebbell, an intelligent, spirited girl two years his junior, considered to be the town’s most brilliant young lady. A similar thing happens in this play to the poet Falk and his beloved Svanhild, one of two daughters in a house presided over by Mrs Halm. …

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Medea, Richmond Theatre, November 2012

In the original Greek play by Euripides, Medea is a barbarian princess brought to Corinth by Jason as his wife. After he leaves her to marry the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth, her sexual and vengeful energy finds a way to burn up those holding power over the civilization she finds herself in. In this modern tragic-comic …

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Royal Ballet Triple: Concerto/ Las Hermanas/ Requiem, Covent Garden, November 2012

The central feature of this triple bill is Kenneth Macmillan’s wonderfully intense ballet Las Hermanas (The Sisters) based on The House of Bernarda Alba by Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca. Las Hermanas tells of a tragedy about a domineering mother and five unmarried daughters. The fiancé of the eldest is seduced by the youngest, and one of the other sisters, being furiously jealous, betrays …

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Constellations, Duke of York’s Theatre, November 2012

Actions have consequences, but change the action very slightly and the consequences change. That is the theme of this two-hander with Roland (Rafe Spall) a bee-keeper representing the simple, reliable world of bees, and Marianne (Sally Hawkins) a highly-strung particle physicist representing the complexities of the quantum world. In quantum physics a particle can be in multiple states, …

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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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Twelfth Night, Apollo Theatre, November 2012

In Shakespeare’s day a ‘Lord of Misrule’ would call for entertainment and songs on Twelfe Night, a tradition going back to the medieval Feast of Fools and even the Roman Saturnalia. His play celebrates this by making a fool of the miserable Malvolio, hilariously played here by Stephen Fry, with Sir Toby Belch and others representing the spirit …

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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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Royal Ballet Triple: Viscera/ Infra/ Fool’s Paradise, Covent Garden, November 2012

This wonderful evening of dance featured two interesting works receiving their first performances by the Royal Ballet. First came Viscera by Liam Scarlett, commissioned by the Miami City Ballet and premiered in their home-town during January 2012. With costumes by Scarlett himself, beautifully pure lighting by John Hall, and music for piano and orchestra in three movements by American …

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The Judas Kiss, Richmond Theatre, October 2012

This David Hare play focuses on two moments in Oscar Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie). One is at the Cadogan Hotel during the day leading up to his arrest, the other in Naples after his release from prison. The audience found several of Wilde’s lines amusingly witty, and some of Bosie’s breathtakingly narcissistic. …

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Paris Alexandros, by Euripides, Actors of Dionysus, October 2012

This was a theatrical reading at Europe House in London on 25th October 2012. Euripides’ play The Women of Troy starts two days after the Greeks have taken the city, and ends with Queen Hekabe stepping forward into slavery. It is the final part of a Trojan Trilogy whose first two parts are largely lost, but inspired …

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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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Grand Tour/ Faster/ The Dream, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB, Sadler’s Wells, October 2012

The Grand Tour, a charming ballet by Joe Layton based on Noël Coward’s 1930s transatlantic trip on a liner, is to music by Coward himself, adapted and orchestrated by Hershy Kay. It’s a colourful ballet with lovely designs by John Conklin, well lit by Peter Teigen, and in this cast the most striking performer was …

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Grosse Fuge/ Lyric Pieces/ Take Five, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB, Sadler’s Wells, October 2012

This triple bill, titled Opposites Attract, concludes with Hans van Manen’s fine 1971 ballet Grosse Fuge to orchestral music by Beethoven, but in the meantime we are treated to two more recent works with music of a lighter texture. The programme starts with David Bintley’s Take Five to jazz music created by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. This is fun. Lighting …

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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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The Handyman, Richmond Theatre, October 2012

In the mid-late 1990s at my son’s high school in America, the janitor was accused of having been a Ukrainian concentration camp guard in World War II. Most of the students wanted to excuse him, because like the title character in this play, written about the same time, he was a nice guy who wouldn’t harm …

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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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Swan Lake with Osipova and Acosta, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2012

For those lucky enough to have tickets for last night’s Swan Lake, Odette/Odile was danced by Russian ballerina Natalia Osipova partnered by the Royal Ballet’s Carlos Acosta as Prince Siegfried. They were terrific together. Osipova was in the news recently when she and Ivan Vasiliev quit the Moscow’s Bolshoi and joined the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, one reason being frustration …

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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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Antony and Cleopatra, Chichester Festival Theatre, CFT, September 2012

At the start of this production Cleopatra stands in a long golden gown with her back to the audience, and before committing suicide towards the end she appears in the identical position. Thus was framed Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, brilliantly served by Peter McKintosh’s fine designs and beautiful lighting by Paul Pyant. The split-level, with ladders …

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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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Cinderella, Gergiev and the LSO, BBC Prom 52, Royal Albert Hall, 22 August 2012

Combining Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra to play ballet music is a winner. At the Proms in 2008 they gave an electrifying performance of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty, and this year they produced a superb rendering of Prokofiev’s Cinderella. Cinderella tends to be less well-known than Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and partly for that reason less favoured on radio broadcasts, …

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Timon of Athens, National Theatre, NT Olivier, August 2012

Timon is a tragic figure who fails utterly to understand himself, and therefore cannot come close to understanding others. His vast wealth is from lands he owns and mortgages, and he spends it eagerly on his acquaintances along with others come to him for help. When there is no more left he abandons the city, and then chances …

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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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Swan Lake, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, August 2012

The English National Ballet’s production of Swan Lake is hard to beat, and it was beautifully danced, so don’t miss it. Wonderful designs by Peter Farmer with clever lighting by Howard Harrison, give a misty otherworldiness to the background in Acts I and III. That other world is where Act II and IV take place, and the stage and …

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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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Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, July 2012

This triple bill, inspired by three Titian paintings currently on view at the National Gallery (Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon, and The Death of Actaeon), is a tribute to Monica Mason who is retiring as artistic director of the Royal Ballet. The three ballets involved seven choreographers! The theme of the paintings finally came to life …

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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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The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Minerva Theatre, CFT Chichester, July 2012

Bertolt Brecht wrote this play, parodying Hitler as Chicago mobster Arturo Ui, in less than a month in 1941 while awaiting his US visa in Helsinki. Other main characters represent various people Hitler either used or killed to get where he was. Its didacticism is intended for an American audience, and although the first act dragged a …

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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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The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, July 2012

“I’ve come to wive it wealthily in Padua”, as Petruchio sings in Kiss Me Kate, but here at the Globe things seemed very different. Before the start a drunken football hooligan stumbled his way onto the stage and urinated on two plants in the audience before collapsing flat on his back. The plants walked out, and …

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Royal Ballet Triple: Birthday Offering/ A Month in the Country/ Les Noces, Covent Garden, July 2012

A second view, with a different cast — see my opening night review for more details. As before, Tom Seligman conducted Birthday Offering with Barry Wordsworth taking the other two ballets, and things got off to a fine start as Seligman produced swelling sounds from the orchestra to Glazunov’s Concert Waltz No. 1. Later the music interleaves excerpts …

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Royal Ballet Triple: Birthday Offering/ A Month in the Country/ Les Noces, Covent Garden, June/July 2012

This triple bill offers an evening of glorious choreography, opening with the exuberance of Ashton’s Birthday Offering. Birthday Offering, first shown in 1956 for the 25th anniversary of the Company (then known as the Sadler’s Wells Ballet), starts with the melodious phrases of Glazunov’s Concert Waltz No. 1, and Tom Seligman in the orchestra pit made it swell …

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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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Henry V, Globe Theatre, London, June 2012

Jamie Parker in the title role gave a superb account of a king come of age since his youthful indiscretions, and that wonderful St. Crispin’s day speech, responding to Westmorland’s wishing a few more men for the forthcoming battle of Agincourt, is delivered as if he is making it up as he goes along. In …

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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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Netrebko, Schrott, Vargas, at the Royal Albert Hall, RAH, 7 June 2012

This concert was a fine mixture of solos, duets, and trios, plus two choral sections, and purely orchestral pieces played here by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Claudio Vandelli. It began with that delightful Rossini overture to L’italiana in Algeri, which starts almost silently before moving into higher gear. This gave just the …

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The Prince of the Pagodas, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, June 2012

King Lear meets Sleeping Beauty in this mid-1950s fairy tale creation by John Cranko, to music commissioned from Benjamin Britten. After the Cranko ballet fell out of the repertoire, Kenneth MacMillan made his own version in 1989. This revival now contains some cuts to the music that he originally intended, but was not permitted to make. …

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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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Antigone, National Theatre, NT, May 2012

The story behind this play is that before he died, Oedipus cursed his sons, and they ended up killing one another in a battle for Thebes. The city is now ruled by Creon, brother to Oedipus’s mother/wife Jocasta. Creon has commanded that one of the two dead brothers — he who ruled the city and exiled his brother …

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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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Ballo della Regina, with Nuñez and Kish/ La Sylphide, with Cojocaru and McRae, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2012

Ballo Della Regina (The Queen’s Ball) is a short Balanchine work set to music that was cut from Verdi’s opera Don Carlo. This ballet involves a sequence of variations, first with twelve girls in blue, joined by two principals in white. After a pas-de-deux for the principals, four soloists in violet come on one at a time, and …

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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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A Marvellous Year for Plums, Chichester Festival Theatre, May 2012

Following the debacle of the Suez crisis, Anthony Eden resigned as Prime Minister in January 1957, and he and his wife took ship to New Zealand. In this play a young Steward serves him tea, and Eden commends him on winning a boxing competition on board. They get into conversation, and when Eden asks the …

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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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La Fille mal gardée, with McRae and Marquez, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2012

La Fille mal gardée is one of Frederick Ashton’s most delightful ballets, and this review covers the same cast as for the live cinema relay on May 16. The story is simple. Widow Simone wants to marry off her very pretty daughter Lise to the son of a wealthy landowner, thereby assuring her and her daughter’s financial future. There are …

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Top Hat, Aldwych Theatre, London’s West End, May 2012

If you like a frothy musical with lots of dancing, and numbers like Cheek to Cheek by Irving Berlin, this is for you. It’s the early 1930s and an American dancer named Jerry Travers has come to London to star in a show produced by wealthy Horace Hardwick. A tap dance routine he performs in his hotel …

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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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South Downs/ The Browning Version, Harold Pinter Theatre, London’s West End, May 2012

Terence Rattigan’s excellent short play The Browning Version is set in a boys’ boarding school, and for the first half of the evening a new play by David Hare, commissioned the Rattigan estate, has a similar setting. The Browning Version is about one of the masters, and Hare’s counterpoint focusses on one of the boys. In both plays …

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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 Fille mal gardée, with Choe and Maloney, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2012

For a witty pastoral story of young love triumphing over a widow’s desire to marry her daughter into wealth this ballet is hard to beat. First created in 1789, the year of the French revolution, its characters are ordinary folk, unlike the stylized shepherds and shepherdesses seen on stage at that time. The scenario is …

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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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Uncle Vanya, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, April 2012

For mockery and a self-deprecating sense of humour, Roger Allam’s Vanya is hard to beat. From his first clumsy entrance onto stage, to his bumbled expostulation, “I could have been a Dostoevsky”, and his failure to shoot the brother-in-law he’s learned to detest, this was a Vanya fated to manage the estate as an also-ran. The brother-in-law, Professor …

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Royal Ballet Triple: Polyphonia/ Sweet Violets/ Carbon Life, Covent Garden, April 2012

This was an entirely twenty-first century triple bill. The first work, Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, set to ten piano pieces by Ligeti, was first shown in New York at the start of the century, January 2001. The large Covent Garden stage gave space to the spare minimalism of Wheeldon’s choreography, with darkness sometimes surrounding a spot for the dancers. …

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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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Apollo/ Jeux/ Le Train Bleu/ Suite en Blanc, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, March 2012

The second part of ENB’s spring programme Beyond Ballets Russes has a charming middle section comprising Jeux and a solo from Le train bleu, sandwiched between two glorious works in white: Apollo and Suite en Blanc. Apollo was choreographed by the 24-year old Balanchine in 1928, though he later revised it, cutting out the birth of Apollo at …

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Firebird/ Faune/ Rite of Spring, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, March 2012

Beyond Ballets Russes celebrates the legacy of Diaghilev’s famous dance company, and is the title of two programmes the ENB are putting on. This first one was very cleverly put together, placing The Afternoon of a Faune, with its gentle music by Debussy, between two longer works to intensely dramatic music by Stravinsky. In fact there are four ballets here, …

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Romeo and Juliet, with Cuthbertson and Bonelli, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2012

This was the evening of a live cinema relay, though I was seated in the Royal Opera House itself. Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo and Juliet with its wonderful choreography is what the Royal Ballet performs, and this jewel has been taken up by some other ballet companies such as American Ballet Theatre. There is no comparison with …

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Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre, London’s West End, March 2012

Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, yet it’s a dictate usually unheeded, and like Verdi’s Rigoletto, Sweeney Todd’s actions lead to the death of the woman he holds most dear. The last time I saw this musical drama by Stephen Sondheim was in Chicago with Bryn Terfel as the eponymous character. It was performed at the Lyric Opera House, a …

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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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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2012

In the world of dreams real people can take on strange identities, and so it is here. It all starts at tea in a large garden, where Alice’s mother ejects her daughter’s beloved Jack, the gardener’s son. To distract the disappointed Alice, Lewis Carroll conjures up a large hole in the ground and disappears down it, …

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Coppélia, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB, London Coliseum, March 2012

London Coliseum audiences who went to Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann recently saw one version of Coppélia in the first act of that opera. It involves a young man who falls for a mechanical doll built by Dr. Coppélius, based on an 1816 tale by E.T.A. Hoffmann himself. This ballet was created in Paris in 1870 less than two months before the …

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Daphnis and Chloë/ The Two Pigeons, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB, London Coliseum, March 2012

Essential for first rate ballet are music and choreography, and this double bill provides them in spades, along with some very fine dancing. Both ballets involve young lovers splitting apart, yet reunited at the end, and both are choreographed by one of the great masters of the twentieth century, Frederick Ashton. His creations were entirely new, 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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Muswell Hill, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, February 2012

Losers. In and out of the kitchen at a dinner party in Muswell Hill, talking about their personal concerns, while the Haiti earthquake stands as a background to keep things in perspective. The losers occasionally lose it, but the hostess Jess, brilliantly portrayed by Jasmine Hyde, is a winner who can keep everything in perspective. And while the …

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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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The Dream with Marquez and McRae, Song of the Earth with Watson, Benjamin and Hristov, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, February 2012

When Frederick Ashton choreographed Dream in 1964 to celebrate the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, he created a magical evocation of the play with Oberon and Titania danced by a very young Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley, and every time I see this ballet I recall Dowell’s performances. But Steven McRae rose to the challenge of this fiendishly …

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Master Class, Vaudeville Theatre, London’s West End, February 2012

Excerpts from Bellini’s La Sonnambula, Puccini’s Tosca, and Verdi’s Macbeth by young singers trying out their talents in front of Maria Callas. Sometimes she stops them even before they’ve uttered their first note, and it’s glorious fun, with Tyne Daly giving a stunning portrayal of the diva. She’s imperious, impatient, and intensely musical. “Just listen. Everything is in the music”. …

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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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The Art of Concealment, Jermyn Street Theatre, January 2012

Remember Burgess and Maclean, Philby, Blunt? All concealed their treason very cleverly, and all were gay. In those days homosexual actions were a crime, and concealment part of the game. Britain’s great playwright, Terence Rattigan managed it flawlessly, and this play by Giles Cole shows how he concealed his sexual orientation from both parents all their lives. …

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Romeo and Juliet with Rojo and Acosta, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, January 2012

This was stunning. MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is full of wonderful choreography, and on the opening night of the present run it was superbly danced by the whole company, with the lead roles gloriously performed by Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo. She was among the finest Juliets I have ever seen, so shy and playfully girlish when she first …

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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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Sleeping Beauty with Cuthbertson and Polunin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2011

This performance, broadcast by live cinema relay, had a super cast along with plenty of musical excitement from the conductor and the orchestra, right from the very beginning of the Prologue. As we start, at the christening of the baby princess, those wonderful fairy variations were danced by Yuhui Choe, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Fumi Kaneko, Iohna Loots, and Emma Maguire. Yuhui Choe in particular was wonderfully …

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Cinderella, Richmond Theatre, London, December 2011

Could Prince Andrew’s daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie have thought that their appearance at the Royal Wedding in those eye-catchingly frightful hats would place them in the pantomime roles of Ugly Sisters? Surely not. That would be taking publicity-seeking too far. Yet I imagine the Richmond Cinderella is not the only one to use their names, as well as producing copies …

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Nutcracker, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, December 2011

The original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann  interweaves the real and magical worlds, with Drosselmeyer’s toy Nutcracker based on his own nephew. Wayne Eagling’s production, based on a joint idea with Toer van Schayk, combines the two worlds in various clever ways and the nephew, who appears in the party scene of Act I, later interchanges with …

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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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An Inspector Calls, review, Richmond Theatre, London, November 2011.

There’s a lovely conjuring trick using a box having a top, four sides and no bottom. You open it out to show that it’s empty, then close it up again and produce things from the inside. I thought of this in seeing Stephen Daldry’s interesting production of J. B. Priestley’s 1945 play, with the inspector as …

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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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Grief, Cottesloe, NT review, National Theatre, November 2011

This powerful new play by Mike Leigh leaves a haunting sense of despair after the fine cast has brought to life characters who just don’t get it. It starts in 1957 when the Russians put up Sputnik, and the doctor’s son is working for Ferranti, designing computers, whatever they are. Exciting times, yet Lesley Manville’s Dorothy and …

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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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Manon, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, November 2011

Manon is one of MacMillan’s most beloved full-length ballets, and the first night of the present run was performed with huge conviction. Rupert Pennefather — always an extremely talented dancer with a lovely line — seems transformed, his body language and facial expressions eloquently exhibiting the emotions and frustrations felt by Des Grieux. He showed a sense of attack …

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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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Review of Sleeping Beauty, with Rojo and Bonelli, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2011

Colourful new costumes with Oliver Messel’s original designs updated by Peter Farmer, fine ensemble dancing and some excellent solos, what more could one want? Well … coordinating the conducting better with the dancing would help. During the first interval, a lady from the audience told me she thought only one of the fairy variations in the Prologue …

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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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The Madness of George III, Richmond Theatre, September 2011

Porphyria is a disease stemming from a genetic condition and if that was indeed his problem, it points to the utter futility of the treatments meted out to [George III]. These include the appalling practice of blistering, which we see performed on stage.

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The Conspirators, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, September 2011

In April 1968 Soviet tanks rolled into Vaclav Havel’s home-town of Prague, and in 1971 he wrote this play about the difficulty of replacing a dictatorship without getting something worse. In the meantime, Colonel Gaddafi came to power in Libya, a land once controlled by a colonial power like the fictional country of this drama. At the …

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Swan Lake, in concert, Prom 42, Royal Albert Hall, August 2011

With Valery Gergiev conducting, this was a sell-out. I remember his magnificent Sleeping Beauty at the Proms three years ago, and was looking forward immensely to Swan Lake, but in the end I was disappointed. It was a promising idea. The orchestra of the Mariinsky Theatre have been in London to play for the Mariinsky Ballet at the Royal Opera House, so …

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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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Petit Triple Bill: L’Arlésienne, Le jeune homme et la mort, Carmen, English National Ballet, ENB at the London Coliseum, July 2011

Roland Petit died less than two weeks ago, and the remarkable timing of this triple bill made it a wonderful tribute to his choreography. That I happened to go on July 22, rather than the first night was entirely fortuitous, and we were rewarded by an incredible performance of Le jeune homme brilliantly danced by guest artist Ivan Vasiliev, shown in …

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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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Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London, June 2011

“For vain pleasure of four-and-twenty years hath Faustus lost eternal joy and felicity. I writ them a bill with mine own blood. The date is expired, the time will come, and he will fetch me”. Thus speaks Faust in the final scene. The scholars seek to save him, but the clock strikes eleven and he …

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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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Yes, Prime Minister, Richmond Theatre, June 2011

Charlotte Lucas was brilliantly in control as Claire Sutton, the PM’s Special Policy Advisor, but the plot was a bit thin.

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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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Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Chichester Festival Theatre (now at the Haymarket), June 2011

… — you don’t need to know Hamlet to appreciate this quick-witted theatre, and Trevor Nunn’s production has depth and subtlety,…

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Royal Ballet Triple: Scènes de Ballet/ Voluntaries/ The Rite of Spring, Covent Garden, May 2011

The three works in this mixed bill fit beautifully together. Scènes de Ballet is a wonderful work by Frederick Ashton to a piece Stravinsky composed in 1944 for a Ziegfeld review. The stylised brilliance of Ashton’s choreography, with its unexpected poses and épaulement, suits the sharp elegance of music, evoking an era wiped out by the …

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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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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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Ballo della Regina/ Live Fire Exercise/ DGV:Danse à Grande Vitesse, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2011

This triple bill made for a rather fragmented evening, because the first two pieces took only 36 minutes between them, while the two intervals lasted half an hour each. But it was all worth it because the final item, Christopher Wheeldon’s Danse à Grande Vitesse, was wonderfully invigorating and performed with great energy. A clear stage …

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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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All’s Well That Ends Well, Globe Theatre, London, May 2011

A young Count, Bertram is brought up in the same household as Helena, a doctor’s daughter he has neither courted nor encouraged. She loves him, is desperate to marry him, and his mother favours the match, but his adamant refusal is over-ruled by the king, so he leaves home, and we should sympathise with him. …

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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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Manon, with Benjamin and McRae, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, April 2011

The performances had a wonderful freshness, and Leanne Benjamin brought Manon beautifully to life, showing her complexity: frivolity and teasing, anguish, fecklessness and the desire for pretty clothes, jewellery and a good time.

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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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Derek Jacobi as King Lear, Richmond Theatre, April 2011

From the first moments of irascible folly to the final moments of grief as he cradles the body of his dearest Cordelia, Derek Jacobi’s Lear came alive on stage in a way that made this relatively long play seem to race past in no time. The production by Michael Grandage, touring from the Donmar, uses …

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The House of Atreus, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, March 2011

The direction was very effective at the end when Orestes kills his mother Klytemnestra — it was a nastily convincing murder — but that does not exculpate this bowdlerised combination of three plays. The work of those ancient Greek playwrights has crossed twenty-four centuries or so — a herald of excellence in itself — is that not good enough for us? Why tamper with them?

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Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), London Coliseum, March 2011

… the nasty stepmother [was] brilliantly portrayed by Marion Tait. Her ball dress was stunning, and when the prince brings the slipper to the house she follows her awful daughters in trying it on . . . before Cinderella herself comes forward.

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Cause Célèbre, The Old Vic, London, March 2011

Anne-Marie Duff as Alma Rattenbury was utterly convincing as a charmingly batty woman who lived life to the full.

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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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Swan Lake, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, March 2011

With the recent success of the movie Black Swan, Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake is filling auditoriums, so tickets are getting scarce. In London at the moment both the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet have productions on stage, so there’s a choice. If you want to hear Tchaikovsky, then I’d go to the London Coliseum where Gavin Sutherland’s …

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Anna Karenina, Arcola Theatre, Dalston, London, March 2011

In the end, the train, created by a few actors and two lamps, was superbly dramatic, and its juxtaposition with the birth of Kitty’s baby formed a glorious ending. Death and new birth — a reminder that the point of life is life itself.

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Swan Lake, with Rojo and Acosta, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2011

Tamara Rojo is the quintessential Odette/Odile … Carlos Acosta as the prince was wonderful … his deft partnering allowed her to shine

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Rhapsody, Sensorium, and Still Life at the Penguin Café, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2011

Why were there empty seats? This is a wonderful Triple Bill, and the Royal Ballet gave a glorious performance, yet on the Grand Tier four boxes in a row were empty. All paid for no doubt, but unused for some of the finest dancing the Company can produce. The evening started with Rhapsody to Rachmaninov’s well-known Rhapsody …

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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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Swan Lake, with Nuñez and Soares, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2011

Marianela Nuñez was lovely as the white swan, and seductively assured as the black swan in Act III. Thiago Soares was excellent as her lover, …

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Flare Path, Theatre Royal Haymarket, London’s West End, March 2011

“Don’t worry, skipper will get us home again . . . and you have to pretend you’re not afraid”, so speaks the tail gunner, a role that Terence Rattigan himself played for real in World War II.

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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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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, February 2011

When the performers came on at the end, even the trees took a bow. It was that sort of evening, when the whole cast did a superb job, and the audience loved them all. And why not indeed? This was the world premiere of a brand new full-length ballet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to specially …

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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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Reading Hebron, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond, February 2011

On February 25, 1994 the Jewish festival of Purim fell during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and an Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein assassinated worshippers in the mosque over the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

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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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Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s Theatre, London’s West End, February 2011

It’s a clever play, using the housing market to expose the repressed anger of many black Americans and the self-satisfied ‘liberalism’ of many white professionals.

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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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Less Than Kind, by Terence Rattigan, Jermyn Street Theatre, January 2011

This play is a must-see for any Rattigan fans, or indeed for anyone else, but this delightful theatre is small and tickets scarce.

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Giselle, Royal Ballet, live relay from Covent Garden, January 2011

This two-act ballet creates a wonderful dichotomy between daylight and night-time. Act I is set in the everyday world, but the second act takes place in world of the wilis, spirits of dead maidens who rise up and destroy any young man they encounter.

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Giselle with Benjamin and Watson, Royal Ballet, January 2011

Giselle is a jewel in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire, and this production by Peter Wright carefully preserves the nineteenth century mime sequences in Act I, where Giselle’s mother warns about the legend of the wilis who will capture some carefree young fellow and make him dance to his death. The young Count Albrecht, sowing his wild …

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The King’s Speech, Movie in Cinemas in the UK and USA, January 2011

On 6th February 1952, King George VI died in his sleep, aged 56. His daughter Elizabeth flew back to the UK from Kenya to become Queen Elizabeth II. Though I was a child at the time, I remember dreaming one night that my Dad and I went to the palace to help the king. Surely …

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Romeo and Juliet, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2011

Nureyev’s choreography gives a real edge to the fight scenes, and the punch-up in Act I sets the stage for the ensuing spitefulness between two feuding families. He first created the production for this company … in 1977, dancing the role of Romeo himself. This revival … has a thrilling energy, just like Nureyev himself …

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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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Peter and the Wolf/ Les Patineurs/ Tales of Beatrix Potter, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2010

The Royal Ballet are delivering wonderful fare this Christmas and New Year, not just with Cinderella, but in two double bills containing Frederick Ashton’s Tales of Beatrix Potter. The first combines it with Matthew Hart’s Peter and the Wolf, and the second with Ashton’s Les Patineurs.

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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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Nutcracker, English National Ballet, ENB at the London Coliseum, December 2010

In the Hoffmann original the Nutcracker is a magical version of Drosselmeyer’s nephew, a feature represented in Eagling’s production by having the two characters interchange on stage several times.

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Cinderella with Rojo and Côté, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2010

… in Act II, Rojo and Côté, surrounded by the ‘dancing stars’ gave a display of classical ballet at its best. Ashton was a master of large ensemble dances and this was magical.

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An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville Theatre, London’s West End, November 2010

This witty and cleverly constructed play by Oscar Wilde was beautifully performed by the entire cast. So beautifully in fact that I never had a serious doubt it would all work out well in the end. Perhaps I should have done, because the charmingly dishonest Mrs. Cheveley, brilliantly played by Samantha Bond, exuded an air …

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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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Cinderella, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, November 2010

One of the lovely things about Ashton’s Cinderella is the intermingling of the real world with the magical world.

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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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The Master Builder, Almeida Theatre, Islington, London, November 2010

Hilde Wangel … was brilliantly played by Gemma Arterton, portraying her as very attractive, assertive and a bit of a minx. She charms everyone, and is the one character in this performance who is quite obviously crazy. But isn’t Solness crazy too? ….

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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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Onegin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2010

This was a second view of John Cranko’s wonderful ballet during the present run, this time with an entirely different cast of principals: Federico Bonelli and Laura Morera as Onegin and Tatiana, Sergei Polunin and Melissa Hamilton as Lensky and Olga, and Gary Avis as Prince Gremin. For my previous review of the first night …

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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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A Month in the Country, Chichester Festival Theatre, October 2010

The slightly worn appearance of the house helped give a sense of impending doom, and as Donald Rayfield writes in the programme, “after . . . watching A Month in the Country you realise quite how painful is the catastrophe that has struck the characters”.

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Onegin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, September 2010

John Cranko’s choreography is a delight . . . creative, always appropriate to the drama, and this fine ballet is worth seeing again and again.

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Birdsong, Comedy Theatre, London’s West End, September 2010

It’s not easy to turn this story — about human anguish occasioned by the First World War — into a screenplay, nor indeed a play for the stage.

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Stephen Fry: Wagner and Me, cinema screening, September 2010

“You stand waiting hours for a Valkyrie and then they all come at once”. So quips Stephen Fry in a studio at Bayreuth with four Valkyries in rehearsal. Bayreuth is the small town in Bavaria where Wagner built his own opera house, and in this delightful documentary we learn how he acquired the money for …

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All My Sons, Apollo Theatre, London’s West End, September 2010

David Suchet, Zoë Wanamaker, and the others were so natural, I believed all the emotions I saw on display, and Miller’s play has a deft logic that packs a huge emotional punch.

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The Rivals, Richmond Theatre, September 2010

How do you play a character who has given her name to a word in the Oxford dictionary? Sincerely rather than as a caricature is what Penelope Keith gave us in her elegantly intelligent and sharply drawn portrayal of Mrs. Malaprop. It was a glowing performance, very well supported by Peter Bowles as an irascibly …

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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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The Master Builder, Chichester, Minerva Theatre, September 2010

“No, I can’t take it anymore” says Knut Brovik, an old architect who now works for Halvard Solness, the Master Builder.

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Blood and Gifts, National Theatre, NT Lyttelton, September 2010

On September 9th, 2001 Ahmed Shah Massoud (aka The Lion of Panjshir) was assassinated by two suicide bombers — Al Qaeda agents posing as journalists. Two days later more suicide bombers crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The rest is history, as they say

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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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Prom 66, with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic, 4 September 2010

“Mahler’s 11th Symphony”, Rattle called the second half of this concert as he introduced it, requesting the audience not to interrupt with applause until all three works were over.

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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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Firebird, in concert at the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2010

After the dreamy first half, Gergiev built momentum and there was a wonderfully swinging quality to the later part when the prince gets hold of Kashchey’s heart in the egg, before breaking it and releasing the princess from Kashchey’s magic

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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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Danton’s Death, National Theatre, NT Olivier, August 2010

… something of a Monty Python feel to the whole thing, except that it wasn’t funny. It was dull and unrelenting, and while Toby Stephens’ extremely emotive portrayal of Danton may have been convincing, it didn’t elicit my sympathy.

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Cinderella, English National Ballet, ENB at the London Coliseum, August 2010

This is a very welcome revival of Michael Corder’s production, with beautiful dancing by Daria Klimentova as Cinderella, very well supported by Vadim Muntagirov as the prince.

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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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Don Quixote, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, August 2010

This thrilling spectacle of classical dance was first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in 1869, choreographed by Marius Petipa, who had just become artistic director of the Maryinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. More than twenty years earlier he’d spent three years in Spain and learned to love Spanish dance — much celebrated in …

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Le Corsaire, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, August 2010

After seeing an excellent Spartacus when the Bolshoi opened their London season, this was a let-down, but I look forward to a thrilling Don Quixote, which I have seen this company do before to great effect.

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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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Anne Boleyn, Globe Theatre, London, July 2010

Miranda Raison’s smouldering sex appeal and assertive shrewdness in the role [of Anne Boleyn] was by far the most vital thing about this play.

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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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Spartacus, Bolshoi Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, July 2010

What really made it memorable, however, was Ivan Vasiliev as Spartacus. He was phenomenal. This is a ballet that gives us stage-devouring leaps and extraordinary lifts, performed to perfection by Vasiliev, with Nina Kaptsova as a captivating Phrygia, but there was also a musicality here that rendered their performance a sublime experience.

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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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Henry IV Parts 1 and 2, Globe Theatre, London, July 2010

Roger Allam was gloriously endearing as Falstaff — one could not imagine a better portrayal.

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Quartet, Richmond Theatre, July 2010

What is the point of life? For a performer who can no longer perform — in this case an opera singer who can no longer sing — the lights have already gone out. “I’m not the same person any more,” says Susannah York as she joins three other ex-opera singers at a rest home for …

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The Real Inspector Hound / The Critic, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, July 2010

… in these performances the stylish overacting kept the audience in suspense and drew out the humour without ever overdoing it.

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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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After the Dance, National Theatre, NT Lyttelton, June 2010

This riveting play by Terence Rattigan had the misfortune to open in June 1939, shortly before war was declared, and when the country’s mood rapidly changed it was taken off. … It’s been somewhat ignored for that reason, but this production and cast do it full justice, and I recommend booking tickets before word gets out.

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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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Salome, by Oscar Wilde, Richmond Theatre, May 2010

Everything is played at top intensity, but I would have preferred the introspective moments to be taken more calmly.

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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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Henry VIII, Globe Theatre, London, May 2010

The principal role is for Cardinal Wolsey, who has some memorable lines, particularly during his final speech, “Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my King, He would not in mine age have left me naked to mine enemies”.

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The White Guard, National Theatre, Lyttelton, May 2010

Stalin loved this play by Mikhail Bulgakov about the aftermath of the revolution in 1917. It’s set in Bulgakov’s home town of Kiev … He’d served as a doctor during the second half of the First World War, and writing later about the years between 1917 and 1920 he said

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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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Royal Ballet Triple: Electric Counterpoint, Asphodel Meadows, Carmen, Covent Garden, May 2010

Asphodel Meadows is a very interesting new ballet by Liam Scarlett, to Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra.

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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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Macbeth, Globe Theatre, London, April 2010

This production by Lucy Bailey presents a Dante-like vision of hell … The witches in their dark red nun-like robes are gatekeepers of hell — tall, medium and very short, they occasionally skulk around the stage ready to draw the characters to their eternal doom.

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Sleeping Beauty, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB, London Coliseum, April 2010

This production has some wonderful moments, and I particularly liked the way Carabosse reappears in Act I as a shrouded old woman, apparently willing to be arrested after giving Aurora the spindle, yet suddenly throwing off her disguise and creating havoc.

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Cinderella, Royal Ballet, 17 April 2010

Yuhui Choe danced Cinderella with exceptional charm and refinement. Her elegant footwork and sympathetic body language marks her out as an exceptional future performer of this role.

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Bingo: Scenes of Money and Death, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, April 2010

There are six scenes, each interesting enough in itself, but lacking overall momentum. The one I enjoyed most was the fourth, where Ben Johnson, entertainingly played by Richard McCabe, is the life and soul of an evening of heavy drinking with Shakespeare.

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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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MacMillan Triple: Concerto, The Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations, a second view, Royal Ballet, March 2010

Marianela Nuñez was outstanding in the second female solo [of Elite Syncopations], so musical, and with enormous precision and attack.

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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 Caretaker, Trafalgar Studios, March 2010

In the end we are left as we started, each one needing to impress the others with the sincerity of his aims, while going nowhere [but] in the meantime, Jonathan Pryce gave a riveting performance of Davies [the old tramp]

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Triple Bill: Concerto, The Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations, Royal Ballet, March 2010

If you need a reason to go to the ballet, the final item alone is worth the price of the ticket, but there are only six performances of this triple bill, with the last one on 15th April.

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Hedda Gabler, Richmond Theatre, March 2010

If we as humans are motivated by sex, money and power, then Rosamund Pike’s Hedda shows a complete absence of interest in the first two, and her twisted use of power is what produces the final bang in this well-judged production by Adrian Noble.

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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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La Fille mal gardée, Cojocaru and McRae, Royal Ballet, March 2010

McRae danced with precision and snap, and being still such a young member of the company he fitted the part perfectly.

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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 Promise, Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond-on-Thames, February 2010

This play is entertaining and wonderfully informative — not to be missed, though I understand the present run is almost sold out!

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Rose Theatre, Kingston-on-Thames, February 2010

The play was produced in about 1595, at a time when Shakespeare’s company, the Chamberlain’s Men, were regularly playing to Elizabeth’s court and it’s quite likely she saw it. In any event it was a masterstroke of Peter Hall to have Judi Dench play the part of Titania, and I found her entirely convincing.

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Triple Bill: As One, Rushes, Infra, Royal Ballet, February 2010

The second item, Rushes — Fragments of a Lost Story, by Kim Brandstrup is a beautiful description of a relationship between a man and two women.

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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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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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The Woman in Black, Richmond Theatre, January 2010

This hugely successful ghost story has been running at the Fortune Theatre in London’s West End for twenty years, …

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Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet, January 2010

…the dancing was excellent, so why was it that the applause during the performance was lukewarm?

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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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Romeo and Juliet, Royal Ballet, January 2010

The cast for this first night of the present run was a strong one headed by Tamara Rojo, whose portrayal of a convincingly distraught Juliet at the end could hardly be bettered.

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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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The Power of Yes, National Theatre, January 2010

The powerful people who attract the most contempt are … Gordon Brown, and to a slightly lesser extent the previous Federal Reserve Chairman, Alan Greenspan,

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New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna, 1st January 2010

Georges Prêtre evidently enjoyed himself immensely, but I felt his attempts to insert so many tempo changes and too much drama into the concert misfired

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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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Les Patineurs and Tales of Beatrix Potter, Royal Ballet, December 2009

These two delightful ballets by Frederick Ashton are a joy to watch.

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The Habit of Art, National Theatre, December 2009

… in the end [this is] a play about Auden, Britten and indeed Bennett himself, and as usual his dialogue is wonderfully effective.

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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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Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Novello Theatre, December 2009

… as an American friend of mine said, “This may be the best performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof you’ll ever see”.

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Mother Courage, National Theatre, November 2009

Nor indeed do we feel any sympathy with Mother Courage herself, who was brilliantly played by Fiona Shaw.

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Salad Days, Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London, November 2009

[This] old 1950s musical by Julian Slade and Dorothy Reynolds is a feast of joie de vivre and absurdity.

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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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Our Man in Havana, Richmond Theatre, November 2009

They did brilliantly well, and how they managed the multiple costume changes, lord alone knows.

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Review — Royal Ballet Triple Bill: Agon, Sphinx, and Limen, 13th November 2009

In Cocteau’s 1934 play La machine infernale the Sphinx challenges her own destiny. Weary of immortality she desires love and freedom, and takes the guise of a young woman.

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Quantum Leaps, Birmingham Royal Ballet, BRB at Sadler’s Wells, November 2009 — Powder, E=mc2, and The Centre and its Opposite

E = mc2, was the main focus of the evening for me … a new work by artistic director David Bintley, in four movements

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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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Triple Bill — Agon, Sphinx, and Limen, Royal Ballet, November 2009

The choreography [of Limen] fitted very well with the lovely music by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho

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Mayerling, Royal Ballet, 29th October 2009

As the programme noted, it was on this same day 17 years ago that he died back stage at the Royal Opera House — his creative talent is sadly missed.

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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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Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet, October 2009

This lovely production by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton, using the old Oliver Messel designs with additions by Peter Farmer, is one of the company’s gems

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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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Enron, Royal Court Theatre, October 2009

Samuel West did an excellent job of portraying Skilling as a man driven by a conviction he could outsmart everyone else, and really wasn’t guilty of anything worse than being a victim to forces beyond his control.

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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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Mayerling, Royal Ballet, October 2009

his was the second night of the present run, with Johan Kobborg in the main role as the 30-year-old Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria-Hungary.

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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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Goldberg, The Brandstrup-Rojo project, Royal Opera House, Linbury Studio, September 2009

This is definitely worth a visit to see the eclectic style of choreography, and the dancing of Rojo, McRae, and Franzen.

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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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The Browning Version, Rose Theatre, Kingston-on-Thames, September 2009

This production by Peter Hall of Terence Rattigan’s play about a classics master at boarding school, was beautifully performed.

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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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Review of Sleeping Beauty, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

The corps de ballet danced superbly, Igor Kolb made a very fine prince, and Maxim Zuzin danced delightfully as the bluebird. All might have been well if Pavel Bubelnikov could have done a decent job conducting

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Homage to Balanchine, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

Symphony in C … to Bizet’s Symphony No. 1 … is a blaze of action, … designed to show off a classical ballet company…

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Hamlet, Donmar production, Wyndham’s Theatre, August 2009

Altogether this was a good production, well worth seeing, but I wish Hamlet’s speeches had been given with less force and more subtlety.

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Swan Lake, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

… the evening belonged to the corps de ballet, which danced magnificently …

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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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Helen, Globe Theatre, August 2009

This Euripedes play was given in a new translation by Frank McGuinness, and… it worked well here, directed by Deborah Bruce, with designs by Gideon Davy,

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Romeo and Juliet, Maryinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

The music was excellently conducted by Covent Garden’s Boris Gruzin with the Maryinsky Theatre Orchestra, but that is not enough to compensate for staging that belongs in the dustbin of Soviet relics.

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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 — 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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The Cherry Orchard, Old Vic, June 2009

Simon Russell Beale as the ex-serf Lopakhin did a splendid job of trying to impose some rational behaviour on these once-wealthy landowners, warning them they will lose the whole estate if they do nothing.

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Phèdre, National Theatre, June 2009

In this performance, Phèdre was played by Helen Mirren, portraying an insecure woman only too conscious of her own inadequacies.

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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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Arcadia, Duke of York’s Theatre, June 2009

This Tom Stoppard play cleverly juxtaposes the modern world of literary scholarship and mathematics with the early nineteenth century world of literary creativity, classical study and scientific enquiry.

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Tribute to Diaghilev, Royal Opera House, June 2009

This was a delightful mixture of divertissements, very ably conducted by Valery Ovsianikov with the orchestra of the English National Ballet.

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Wallenstein, at Chichester, June 2009

This adaptation by Mike Poulton gave a fine insight into the strengths and weaknesses of Wallenstein, showing his enthusiasm for astrology, which caused fatal hesitation in waiting for the right omens.

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The Winter’s Tale, at the Old Vic, June 2009

The role of Leontes was brilliantly played by Simon Russell Beale

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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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A View from the Bridge, Richmond Theatre, May 2009

Ken Stott was excellent as Eddie, well demonstrating his insecurity, his intensely narcissistic love for his niece Katie and growing disenchantment with his wife.

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Les Sylphides, Sensorium, The Firebird, Royal Ballet, 21 May 2009, return visit

The cast seemed very much in tune with [Sensorium], and Melissa Hamilton was simply wonderful. It’s astonishing that she’s a mere 21 years old.

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The Winslow Boy, Rose Theatre, Kingston-on-Thames, May 2009

This was a terrific performance of Terence Rattigan’s excellent play about a teenage boy wrongly accused of stealing at Naval College.

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Madame de Sade, in a Donmar production at Wyndham’s Theatre, May 2009

… while de Sade himself may have appealed to masochists, I did not realise you had to be a theatrical masochist to sit through this stuff.

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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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Romeo and Juliet, Globe Theatre, May 2009

As Romeo we had Adetomiwa Edun giving a passionate performance, and commanding the stage with his presence

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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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Review — Serenade, Enigma Variations, and Still Life at the Penguin Café, Birmingham Royal Ballet, April 2009

brilliantly danced by the company, with the music beautifully played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Philip Ellis

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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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Giselle, Royal Ballet, April 2009

…altogether a fine performance of Giselle, and Boris Gruzin did an excellent job with the music, conducting with vibrancy and sensitivity.

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Swan Lake, American Ballet Theater, March 2009

Irina Dvorovenko was a lovely Odette-Odile, alternating well between a sublime white swan, and her seductive black counterpart in Act III.

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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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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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Sleeping Beauty, English National Ballet, London Coliseum, Dec 2008

Carping aside, Andre Portasio stood out as a magnificent Carabosse, but even he couldn’t overcome the plodding work of the conductor, and that is what killed this performance. The dancers tried their best, but there was no sustained applause, and it was a sadly dull evening.

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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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