Gilbert & Sullivan: The Mikadoimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

English National Opera, 26th February 2011, Faye Courtney

This critic was merely a little maid from school when Jonathan Miller’s now classic production of The Mikado was first seen at ENO in 1986; but it is testimony to the strength and durability of this stylish show that it remains a delightfully funny crowd-pleaser in its umpteenth revival 25 years later. Dispensing with the kimonos and indeed all things Japanese, Miller’s slick and classy production (updated to 1930s England) is a frightfully English “jolly hockey sticks” affair set in the faded elegance of an all-white art deco hotel lobby (a strikingly attractive set by the late Stefanos Lazaridis) with a bold, predominantly black and white costume scheme (by Sue Blane). The concept works a treat and the lack of “Japanese-ness” really isn’t a problem here; besides, it goes without saying that beneath the totally superficial Oriental veneer Gilbert & Sullivan’s best-loved operetta is as English as Pimms and lemonade on a summer’s day, and no amount of dressing up a bunch of British singers in traditional Japanese costume would ever make one think otherwise. amapur stundendiät erfahrung -

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Wagner: Parsifalimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

English National Opera, 16th February 2011, Mark Pullinger

Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production of Parsifal has returned to ENO for the first time since its 1999 première, and although illness prevented the director from to duties, it remains as fine a staging of Wagner in London as any for the past decade. The action is set in a nondescript time and location. Audiences searching for overtly Christian references will look in vain, yet the message of redemption struck home more powerfully than ever, thanks to a twist at the conclusion.

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Turnage: Anna Nicoleimages/stories/star_ratings/3_stars.jpg

The Royal Opera, 17th February 2011,Stephen Jay-Taylor

The first inklings that all was not going to be operatic business as usual for this, the world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new work, were evident from the moment you set foot inside the foyers, to discover that the mannequins in the costume display cases in the carriage lobby were all sporting paper bags over their heads, just as Brünnhilde once did in Richard Jones’ grisly Götterdämmerung in the 1990s. The only difference now is that the bags are overprinted with Anna Nicole Smith’s image - the one from the posters - which has usurped every available surface on the ROH’s walls, covering up each specimen in the historical photo exhibition in the Amphitheatre, as well as the prints, engravings and lithographs that since time immemorial have lined the outer wall of the Stalls, all cut to individual size and shape and fixed in what I fervently hope will be temporary position. Even the permanent displays of set models have been removed, and where, say, you would always have seen - with a fond and nostalgic sigh in my case - the Cloisters of the Monastery of San Yuste from Visconti’s Don Carlo, you may now examine at incredulous leisure what purports to be Anna Nicole’s brassière, a large black object looking for all the world like a pumpkin carrier.

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Tributes paid to La Stupenda at Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey, 15th February 2011, Antony Lias

Rarely, if ever, has a singer inspired such affection from her fans, as did Dame Joan Sutherland.  Today, some two thousand admirers and dignitaries turned up at Westminster Abbey to pay homage to the great La Stupenda.  The setting of a memorial service at Westminster Abbey was perhaps the ideal way to celebrate that career - one which spanned more that forty years and included countless triumphs for a voice that was both instantly recognisable and unparalleled in its combination of attributes.

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Magdalena Kozena at the Wigmore Hallimages/stories/star_ratings/5_stars.jpg

2nd February 2011, Mark Pullinger

With the spectre of Valentine’s Day looming ever closer, a programme of 17th century Italian love songs may have seemed just the thing to fire Cupid’s bow, your average audience member at Wigmore Hall may be considered a little beyond such nonsense, in terms of age at least. In the event, Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena and the instrumental ensemble Private Musicke struck gold (and hearts) in a programme of songs exploring all the pleasures and pains of love under the title ‘Lettere amorose’, the same heading as was used on their recent disc for Deutsche Grammophon. I did wonder if this was going to be a promotional puff (if a tardy one) for the album, with an almost identical sequence of songs occasionally shuffled. Indeed, that the programme announced was 75 minutes long and was to be performed without an interval raised my suspicions, but the artistry involved suggested this repertoire is a real labour of love. In truth, there was a distinct absence of the aforementioned disc for sale in the foyer.

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Mozart: Die Zauberflöteimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

The Royal Opera, 1st February 2011, John E. de Wald

There is a fanciful charm undeniably suffusing David McVicar’s 2003 staging of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, little ameliorated by the passing of time leading to this, its third revival.  The set design and costumes still evoke those striking panoramas of the worlds of light and dark, Enlightenment wisdom standing boldly against its benighted opposite, painted in beguiling hues of black, violet, and gold; the direction is still conveyed with acuity, little slackened in the hands of revival director Lee Blakeley.  With Sir Colin Davis, conductor of the production at its premiere eight years ago, at the helm once again, one could little expect anything other than a safe evening of Mozartian elegance.

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Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgiaimages/stories/star_ratings/1-half_star.jpg

English National Opera, 31st January 2010, Antony Lias

In just a shade under two hours and twenty five minutes the English National Opera, courtesy of director Mike Figgis, managed to butcher a wonderful oeuvre- opera to such an alarming extent, that by the end of the performance I was left practically begging for an invite to Lucrezia Borgia’s latest “wine and anthrax party” – anything at all to put me out of my misery.   The ENO often trumpets their risk-taking credentials as an antidote to the more staid and safe offerings over at Covent Garden, but when it goes wrong, my God it goes wrong.  At what point did John Berry and the rest of his management team sit down and say, is this a risk or is it reckless?  No doubt a fine line separates the two, hence the often brilliant versus disappointing dichotomy offered at the Coliseum, but when you engage a film director with no prior experience with directing an opera, you are asking for trouble.  Even more alarming is when you engage a film director who avowedly declaims his lack of knowledge of the art form.  At this point you can safely deduce without the aid of Mother Shipton, that you will end up with a prize turkey on your hands. 

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Recent Reviews

Pelléas et Mélisande

The Metropolitan Opera, New York, 17th December 2010

Is there any canonical opera which so divides listeners as Pelléas et Mélisande? Wagner’s Ring foments  idolatry or rebellion between the faithful and the faithless, Verdi’s Falstaff admiration or perplexity, but even the experienced opera-going public is generally indifferent at best to Claude Debussy’s only opera.

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Cherubini: Medee

Chelsea Opera Group, 20/11/2010, John Wald

2010 signifies the 250th anniversary of the birth of Luigi Cherubini, an Italian composer now reasonably obscure within the mainstream operatic canon.  Yet there was a time when knowledge of his music was de rigueur amongst the cognoscenti; as the insightful programme note by Jonathan Burton remarks, Beethoven considered Cherubini his greatest contemporary, and Brahms declared Cherubini’s 1797 opera Medee ‘the work which we musicians regard among ourselves as the summit of dramatic music.’

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Wagner: Die Walkure

La Scala, Milan,10th December 2010, Will Hobbs

Given the current political and cultural situation here in Italy it would be foolish to think that the traditional December 7th opening night at La Scala would not be used to make political as well as fashion statements and would make the headlines for other than musical reasons.  Students protesting against recent educational legislation jeered and heckled – at a distance - the wealthy and illustrious as they paraded into the theatre.  Inside the evening began with conductor and maestro scaligero (the closest I can come to this is permanent guest conductor) Daniel Barenboim reading, to much applause, Article 9 of the Italian Constitution which states that it is the duty of the State to safeguard the culture and heritage of the country.  This gesture made the news here in Italy and abroad, however its effectiveness is questionable.  Neither the current Prime Minister nor his Culture Minister were present or frankly seem to care very much about Italy's culture or heritage.  And though President Napoletano, an avid Wagnerite, was in attendance he has no power to set Government policy.  And for an added touch of Italian irony many in the audience applauding his words are the same people who put and keep the current government in power.

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Aida Cast Change

Luciana D'Intino has withdrawn from the role of Amneris in the new David McVicar production of Verdi's Aida at The Royal Opera, on grounds of ill-health.  No further information is available at present, but the role of Amneris is now being taken over by Marianne Cornetti, who was last seen at The Royal Opera in September 2009 as Eboli in Verdi's Don Carlo

Satyagraha Remix at the ENO

Audience participation is taken a step further with the ENO’s Satyagraha Remix, inspired by the opera of the same name by Philip Glass. Members of the public are to join composer Anna Meredith, sound designer Sam Godin and the classically trained Indian singer Falu, in an evening where they can record Satyagraha-inspired loops that will form part of the “Remix”. Read More>>


ENO Wins Southbank Show Award.

For the third year in a row, the English National Opera have won the Southbank Show Award in the opera category. This time the award was made for David Alden's critically acclaimed sell-out production of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes. The previous two wins were for their joint production of Lost Highyway and Punch & Judy with The Young Vic, and also for David McVicar's controversial, but well received production of Britten's The Turn of the Screw. Read More>>

Elisabeth Söderström dies aged 82images/stories/elisabeth soderstrm.jpg

News has just broken that the great Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström, died on Friday morning due to a stroke. Her professional debut was as Bastienne in Mozart's rarely performed Bastien et Bastienne at the Drottningholm Court Theatre in 1947. Although closely associated with the Royal Swedish Opera, she performed at all the major opera houses around the world. Her UK debut was at Glyndebourne in 1957, where she would return to sing numerous Strauss and Mozart roles, with which she was to become so closely identifable, including Octavian, the Composer, the Countess in Capriccio and Susanna. She was also famous for her interpretation of some of Janacek's female heroines, not least Kat'a and Jenufa, where in both cases she made distinguished recordings with Sir Charles Mackerras that have remained unsurpassable in the recording catalogue. Her first appearance at Covent Garden was with the Royal Swedish Opera as Daisy Dodd in Blomdahl’s Aniara in 1960. Söderström was an astonishingly versatile artist, who brought great commitment and beauty of voice to everything she did.

Poetry Corner

Biography: Mary Robertson is an Emeritus Professor in Neuropsychiatry at University College London and visiting Professor at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. Aside from being an opera devotee, Mary is a published poet and photographer.

(New poems added: 04/08/2010)

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Around the Houses

November 2010

Contributions to "Around the Houses" for November, include news about Erwin Schrott, Rolando Villazon, Eva-Maria Westbroek and Anja Harteros. Read More>>

"Around the Houses" concentrates on providing the latest news on future plans for opera companies around the globe, artists schedules, cancellations and interesting snippets of information. We will try and avoid unsubstantiated gossip wherever possible, but all of our sources will remain completely confidential.  If you would like to advise us about potential news for this section, then please feel free to email us at

Recent Reviews

Out and About

Opera Britannia's US column

With this first column of Out and About, the Editor has given me an opportunity to share with you news and a perspective on opera, which comes not only from the major houses in New York, but from important New York recitals, from performances in the smaller venues in the city where new or rare works are done, and from events outside of New York City. Upcoming columns will be devoted to recent important productions in the mid-West, and to a new opera in Boston starring male soprano Michael Maniaci. I also look forward to reviewing works and recordings which have passed undeservedly from the public eye, as well as offering some general reflections, musings, and, inevitably, complaints, about the state of opera in general. I hope a good time will be had by all.

Metropolitan Season Announcement

The big news this week comes from the Metropolitan Opera, which on Monday announced its plans for the 2010-2011 season, which includes two Met Opera Premiers (John Adams's Nixon in China and Rossini's Le comte Ory), five additional new productions, including the first two parts of an awaited Robert Lepage Ring, 11 HD transmissions, Music Director James Levine's celebration of his 40th Anniversary with the Company, a tour of Japan and, buried a bit deeper in the fine print, an increase of 6% for subscriptions, and 11% for individual tickets. Read More>>

CD Reviews

The Sacrifice (James MacMillian): Chandos

There can be no doubt whatsoever that James MacMillan’s The Sacrifice is one of the most accessible contributions to the world of British opera since Benjamin Britten, with audiences responding as warmly as they did to Thomas Adès’ The Tempest. Both these works were broadcast live on BBC Radio 3, and each of these broadcasts has been cleaned up and recently issued on double CD (Adès on EMI, 2009; MacMillan on Chandos, 2010). Both operas also have composers who enjoy successful careers as conductors, but while Adès conducted The Royal Opera House forces at Covent Garden, it was unfortunate that on the night when The Sacrifice was broadcast from the Wales Millennium Theatre with Welsh National Opera, MacMillan was unwell and was therefore forced to hand over the reins to Anthony Negus.

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Recital Reviews

Joyce DiDonato in Recital

Wigmore Hall, 26th January 2010

Joyce DiDonato is very obviously a great favourite with London audiences, and on the very day we finally officially emerged – pro tem, at least – from eighteen months recession by the magnificent margin of point squit of a zillionth, it was nice actually to encounter something quite so uncomplicatedly positive as her recital. Opera singers, in the up-close and personal context of a recital room, fall into extremely contrasting categories, ranging from the all-singing, all-dancing Ethel Merman-esque firecrackers (Cecilia Bartoli) to the half-barmy and catatonic (um, better exercise some discretion here, I suppose) by way of sassy, sweet ‘n simple, straightforward or sepulchral, the raunchy or the reverential, the bullish or the businesslike.

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DVD Reviews

Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier (Decca)

Evidently, productions of Der Rosenkavalier have a habit of outliving their directors. In a positive flurry of recent revival activity that has seen the work severally staged at Covent Garden, the Metropolitan and, as preserved on this DVD, the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, each of the original directors was no longer around to supervise his show's latest outing. This matters less, of course, in stagings that cleave close to the scenic and theatrical givens of the work as conceived by Hofmannsthal and Strauss in microscopic detail, than in ones like that under consideration here that avail themselves of varying degrees of liberty and licence.

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