Ariadne auf Naxos, Longborough Festival Opera, LFO, July 2018

One of Richard Strauss’s greatest works, with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, this juxtaposes a young composer’s new opera on the plight of Ariadne with a commedia dell’arte  entertainment, both to be performed for guests at the house of one of the super-rich. In the opera story Ariadne has absconded with Theseus, after helping …

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Pushkin, Grange Park Opera, GPO, July 2018

Wow! This was the best thing so far this summer, and the audience acknowledged so with a standing ovation. Well deserved indeed, for it does what opera is supposed to do — engage the audience in an emotional experience rather than an intellectual exercise, which however cleverly contrived does not make one want to rush …

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Idomeneo, Buxton Festival, July 2018

To understand the link from Handel’s opera seria to the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, Mozart’s Idomeneo is a key work that tackles Greek drama with knowing psychological insight. This sensible production by Stephen Medcalf gives clarity to the story, allowing the music to speak for itself and enhancing the theatrical aspects with a chorus performing …

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Alzira, Buxton Festival, July 2018

This early Verdi opera is set in Peru, based on a play that Voltaire designed to criticise the smug superiority of conventional Christianity in a foreign context. Its libretto by Salvatore Cammarano of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples ignored most of Voltaire’s subtleties, but Verdi was delighted to be working with him and continued …

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Roméo et Juliette, Grange Park Opera, GPO, July 2018

Of the half-dozen or so operas on this Shakespeare play, Gounod’s is undoubtedly the best, and Patrick Mason’s staging in pre-war fascist Italy gives an interesting modern take on the background to the feuding families. Knives and baseball bats come out amidst threats and fights, leaving Juliette a prey to her own burgeoning emotions, her …

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Abduction from the Seraglio, Grange Festival, June 2018

The one non-singing role in this Mozart Singspiel— the Ottoman Pasha Selim — at the very end turns out to be the noblest character in the story. In the meantime his unrequited passion for Konstanze has led him to threaten terrible punishment if she fails to reciprocate his ardour. She has been purchased as a …

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Un Ballo in Maschera, Grange Park Opera, GPO, June 2018

In staging Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera about the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden, the first decision is whether to set it in its originally intended milieu or follow Verdi, compelled by the censors to avoid a regicide on stage. As a result he set it in America with Gustav as Riccardo, governor of Boston. Stephen …

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Le nozze di Figaro, Nevill Holt Opera, NHO, June 2018

Nevill Holt has finally come of age with its new opera house, following Oliver Mears’ revelatoryTosca last year in the now-vanished temporary structure. Mears is now artistic director of Covent Garden, and Nevill Holt a substantial presence on the country house opera scene. The outside of the new 400-seat theatre exhibits a substantial, almost church-like presence …

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Der fliegende Holländer, Longborough Festival Opera, LFO, June 2018

This was musically terrific, and what a refreshing change to see a simple staging of Wagner that stays true to the essence of the story without fancy directorial accoutrements. As the overture ends slow moving figures pass across the stage carrying model houses and a lighthouse, like the chorus in a Greek drama, reminding us …

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Agrippina, The Grange Festival, June 2018

Agrippina, wife of the emperor Claudius (Claudio), is bent on securing the throne for Nero (Nerone), her son by a previous marriage. A scheming woman who manipulates her spiritually weak husband and everyone around her, she finds herself out-manoeuvred by the pretty Poppea, desired by Claudio and Nerone, to say nothing of her beloved Ottone …

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