Opera past and present in guises old and new.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Alone in an unbearable world

Wozzeck, ENO, Coliseum, London

It would be very easy indeed to leave the theatre thinking about the plight of soldiers and their families, or the particular evils of specific wars, or the inadequacies of psychiatry. And to provoke such real-life thoughts is one thing the arts can do. But Berg’s Wozzeck asks us to refrain from treating this human tragedy as a case study.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Competing claims of love and the glory of war

Medea, ENO, Coliseum, London

In spite of being based broadly on Euripides’ character, Charpentier’s Medea is curiously modern, and at times her modernity emerges into the music, with harsh discords that strain against baroque formality.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

‘Dear God, to die so young’

La Traviata, ENO, Coliseum, London

Peter Konwitschny has cut the piece back to its simple lines: boy meets dying girl; they fall in love but society tears them apart; he comes back to her but she dies. Played straight through, with no interval, it runs under two hours.

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Under the sun

Carmen, ENO, Coliseum, London

You can imprison her, hurt her, kill her, but she will live and die free. Constrained as she is, like all her milieu, by poverty, sexual exploitation, military repression, she will not submit.

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Crocodile shoes

Julius Caesar, ENO, Coliseum, London

Sometimes the dancers function as symbols or sylphs, for example appearing as birds to comfort the lonely Queen or as fawning girls to dote and climb adoringly all over Caesar. At other times they serve to paint a character’s emotion more vividly or convey a sense of overall musical mood.

Sarah Boyes in • MusicOpera
Friday 21 September 2012

A world without cause or consequence

Julietta, ENO, Coliseum, London

Martinu’s vocal lines have a lightness of touch that makes room for comedy as well as romance and jeopardy. The vocal echo is a recurring motif, adding to the sense of unreality and disorientation. Beauty runs through, among the witty instrumentation and dramatic crescendo

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Clearly, he is mad

Caligula, ENO, Coliseum, London

The heartbeat is a theme that runs through the piece, forcing us to stay inside the madman’s view of the world, sharing his crisis of the meaninglessness of everything.

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Terrible burdens of the Promethean spirit

The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner, ENO, Coliseum, London

The music takes its temper and tempo from the sea, with its growling timpani thunder and the swirling chromatic whirlpools of strings. The sea also represents both the site of the Dutchman’s fateful aspiration and his current prison and jailer.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Wherever it is water-nymphs are meant to live

Rusalka, Royal Opera House, London

There are, though, moments of directorial wit as well, and their characterisation of Rusalka – adorably played by Camilla Nylund – is delightful, as she struggles in her high-heels and gets her wedding outfit wrong. Up until the rape bit, the giant cat’s a laugh too.

Paul Kilbey in • MusicOpera
Monday 27 February 2012

Decisively passive

The Death of Klinghoffer, ENO, Coliseum, London

As a contemporary work, it expresses a dilemma of our time. Do I take sides, or do I invite everyone in to have their say? Do I tell the story my way, or present the audience with fragments and let them make up their own narrative?

Tuesday 7 February 2012

‘How can this come to pass?’

Der Rosenkavalier, ENO, Coliseum, London

If you wanted to take Rosenkavalier at face value as a tale of young love you could, just about, with eyes half shut. But with eyes wide open the tragedy of the Marschallin, engineering the very abandonment she foretold, adds depth to the story.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Balance rather than busyness

The Marriage of Figaro, ENO, Coliseum, London

The line ‘What did you expect: the Spanish Inquisition?’ is little more flippant than much of the original text by Da Ponte, who, in adapting his text from the play by Beaumarchais, deliberately expunged all references to politics. The Marriage of Figaro is absolutely not a commentary on the banking crisis, and is all the better for it.

Paul Kilbey in • MusicOpera
Wednesday 12 October 2011

Shifting, shimmering, leaping

The Fairy Queen, by Henry Purcell, Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London

Purcell’s music in particular stands out from its contemporaries and even later composers in its exuberant, life-affirming quality, its assuredness in handling mood, from unabated joy to harrowed emotional longing and despair.

Sarah Boyes in • MusicOpera
Thursday 29 September 2011

A musical voice transcending historical hype

The Passenger, ENO, Coliseum, London

Overall though, it is the texture of Weinberg’s music that’s most arresting, the loose tonality and regular use of drums and bells, the often bare and brittle melodies and wide open bits of chord, odd bits of jazz and tugging dissonances. Musically, it is at once easy to listen to but difficult to get lost in, giving way to a state of sort of resigned semi-alertness.

Sarah Boyes in • MusicOpera

Operatic polemic

Manifest Destiny 2011, King’s Head Theatre, London

The commitment of Burstein and Edwards to their piece is never in doubt, and good for them. Furthermore, the creators’ zealousness has attracted the support of a hugely talented young theatre company. It’s just a pity that this company’s faith hasn’t been better rewarded.

Paul Kilbey in • MusicOpera
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English National Opera
Royal Opera
Streetwise Opera

Opera, dead or alive? Relevance and value in the arts today
Audio recording of a Battle of Ideas Satellite debate at the Folkoperan in Stockholm, 16 October 2010
(Debate in English, with short introductions in Swedish)

Worth three tenors? The value of opera
Video recording of a session at the Battle of Ideas festival in London, 30 October 2010