Opera past and present in guises old and new.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

All about excess

Don Giovanni, Soho Theatre, London

As Johnny surveys the mess he has created, he comments with characteristic understatement, ‘This is getting awkward.’ It is when the show undermines the epic scale of Mozart’s piece that it actually feels strongest. Other undercutting works less well. So, as Blake merges in his R&B and dubstep beats, the cast is left to valiantly fly Mozart’s flag above this stream of sound.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

La vie bohèmienne

La Bohème, ENO, the Coliseum, London

In fact, central to bohemianism was a kind of ambivalence – were these real artists, or were they simply avoiding the traditional expectations of their stations by legitimising their own pleasure-seeking? This question of the status and quality of art was a genuine one and remains with us today, albeit tangled in quite contemporary concerns.

A most formal resolution in Thrace

Radamisto, ENO, the Coliseum, London

The only untied end is Tigrane - who is left dangling - his love for Polissena unfulfilled and perhaps not quite fitting into the final order of events. In some ways it is him who is easiest to identify with: he seems the more mysterious yet most real person of the piece.

Sarah Boyes in • MusicOpera
Saturday 2 July 2011

The old shock of the new

Two Boys, ENO, Coliseum, London / Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Glyndebourne Festival

The layers of Craig Lucas’ libretto for Two Boys build a nuanced look at a generation that’s grown up spending its social life onscreen as much as face to face, and at how they’re regarded, often with bafflement and fear, by what Mulhy’s called ‘the analogue generation’. Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg also hinges on a middle-aged character trying to make sense of a changing world.

Monday 20 June 2011

Blood ties and beyond

Simon Boccanegra, ENO, Coliseum, London

Bruno Caproni’s Simon Boccanegra first appears as an overweight Fonz, but fortunately this won’t last. The opera’s prologue features the two events that will transform Boccanegra from a lovestruck pirate into a compassionate statesman.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

Ah, the innocent cynicism of youth

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ENO at the Coliseum, London

How should we view Oberon’s casual intimacy with Puck, sharing cigarettes with him (the ‘magic herb’ which turns lovers’ heads) and involving him in his own very adult relationship with Tytania? Is it just favouritism which carelessly harnesses the powerful emotions of adolescence, or an abusive betrayal of childish trust?

Monday 9 May 2011

With the Devil as our impresario

The Damnation of Faust, ENO at the Coliseum, London

But it’s a night at the opera, not a dialectical analysis of Romantic-into-modern Germany. And as a dramatisation of a distinctly undramatic musical work, it works. Letting the words float on the surface of a powerful drama, instead of having to carry the narrative, takes the pressure off the libretto’s weak points, and lets its more poetic passages fly free.

Sounds exactly like opera to me

Séance on a Wet Afternoon, New York City Opera, Lincoln Center, New York

If you must slaughter the innocent, it is best if you do so in Italian, or better yet, Czech. But if there is no getting round the business, all you can do is extenuate it and hope you will somehow retain the audience’s sympathy by emphasising that well, yes, Myra is a child killer, but it’s not really her fault. Yeah, good luck with that one.

Friday 1 April 2011

Not what you expect from opera?

Birmingham Opera Company and the politics of outreach

Niall Crowley asks if the work of Birmingham Opera Company – featured in a recent BBC documentary along with a screening of their unique production of Verdi’s Othello – and their goal of ‘making opera speak to a broad audience’ is just another attempt to use the arts for the purposes of social engineering or something to be celebrated.

Niall Crowley in • EssaysMusicOpera
Monday 28 February 2011

The possibility of renewal

Wagner's Parsifal, ENO at the Coliseum, London \ Mahler’s Second symphony, Guildhall Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by James Gaffigan, Barbican, London (12 February 2011)

The ritual of the Grail, unveiling the divine to spiritually restore the knights, has the emotional impact it needs. This is what sustains Amfortas’ father Titurel so far beyond his natural lifespan that he’s a living corpse. As a musical statement of belief in the redemptibility of humankind, it cuts through the despair of Act 1 like a laser.

Saturday 27 November 2010

‘Look, he’s smoking’

A Dog’s Heart, ENO, Coliseum, London

There are themes that outlive the specifics of 1920s Moscow, questions about what defines us as human, for example. But in the frenetic vision of an apartment being gradually reduced to chaos by a foulmouthed ex-canine, there is little space to contemplate them.

Sunday 21 November 2010

‘Beat me, beat me!’

Don Giovanni, ENO, Coliseum, London

Don Giovanni is amoral, willing to sacrifice his own loyal manservant to escape punishment. Yet, faced with damnation for his wickedness, he refuses to repent. ‘My fate is in my own hands, I’ve made my choice… repentance is for cowards’. Suddenly there is a whiff of Faust about him.

Thursday 30 September 2010

How grim, to have to live so long

Faust (Gounod) and The Makropoulos case (Janacek), ENO, Coliseum, London

There’s a comic streak through this production of The Makropoulos Case too, but it’s a dark comedy. And, in a sense, it’s the 20th century mirror image of the Gounod piece. Faust wanted only youth and love. Marty has more than enough of both.

Thursday 1 July 2010

The vow is inhuman

Idomeneo, ENO, Coliseum, London

Mitchell eschews spectacular, supernatural visuals, apart from some lightning in the darkening sky over the sea. The orchestra has a free rein to bring the storms, both emotional and meteorological, to life. But in some ways this makes it harder to accept that the supernatural element is a metaphor, or a dramatic device, to open up the emotional realities. Is Idomeneo deluded, suffering PTSD from the long war?

Thursday 17 June 2010

Notoriously popular Puccini

Tosca, ENO, Coliseum, London

This awareness of artistic conceit, the self-conscious construction of the characters to depict something real, and in turn their own play-acting and the overarching authority of the plot, the position in which this puts the audience - is both noticeable and starkly modern. As you watch and listen, you realise the characters- and by extension people in general - have really nowhere else to go but death if their grand plans fail.

Sarah Boyes 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