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Susan Bullock in recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

The Wigmore Hall, 13th December 2010, Sebastian Petit

Recitals by singers (especially sopranos) who specialise in the hochdramatisch repertoire in intimate halls such as the Wigmore tend to be a somewhat mixed blessing. Often the singer finds it difficult or uncomfortable to tailor their huge vocal resources to the close surroundings and the audience can feel as if their eardrums are being subjected to repetitive strain injury tests.

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Christine Brewer sings Joseph Marximages/stories/star_ratings/5_stars.jpg

The Barbican, 11th December 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor

Mae West, a role model for the ages, once sagely observed that if you keep a diary, one day it will keep you. Alas then that my ones – a merry mélange of and wind - are temporarily out of reach, so that I can’t quite clearly date the first time I heard La Brewer live. I think it was as Ariadne, at the Coliseum, probably the better part of twenty years ago. She is now, quite unbelievably, 55 (faux gallantry has never been my strong suit) but on the strength of Friday’s concert, the years haven’t so much been kind to her as positively munificent, since there is not a scratch on the surface, nor a wrinkle in the texture of what is still the most completely rock-solid, house-filling, golden-toned natural Hochdramatisch voice I have ever been lucky enough to encounter live (and yes, I heard Nilsson in most of her glory roles). On the contrary, like the finest Clarets, Ms. Brewer just keeps on steadily developing, acquiring more colours, greater concentration of body, a more simple and unaffected excellence of the essentials. To have reached the middle of one’s sixth decade - for any opera singer, but particularly for a soprano and especially a dramatic – and still not to be showing the faintest signs of wear and tear is a remarkable achievement, and handsome tribute to not only an evidently formidable technique, but to a kind of constitutional fortitude.

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Andreas Scholl & Philippe Jaroussky sing Purcellimages/stories/star_ratings/3_stars.jpg

The Barbican, 7th December 2010, Dominic Wells

The last time I saw Andreas Scholl (at the Barbican earlier this year) was one of the most memorable and enjoyable concerts of my life, despite its rather repertoire of music by the medieval composer Wolkenstein. Last night’s concert offered much more familiar repertoire and was again dedicated to a single composer: Purcell. Although the programme was ‘to be confirmed’, I suspected Purcell would feature prominently to coincide with Scholl’s latest all-Purcell release (a return to Decca). So it all seemed promising: an evening of music by one England’s greatest composers performed by two of the most celebrated counter-tenors of the moment, for Scholl was partnered with none other than Philippe Jaroussky.

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Rolando Villazon in Concertimages/stories/star_ratings/3-half_stars.jpg

The Royal Festival Hall, 6th December 2010, Faye Courtney

England may be freezing under a blanket of snow and ice, but that certainly didn’t stop Rolando Villazón from running around the Royal Festival Hall in a big sombrero on Monday night. Yes, the lovably eccentric Mexican was back and thankfully in considerably better vocal shape than his previous appearance here in May.  This programme of classic and popular songs from his homeland was the final concert in an eleven date European tour to promote his new album Mexico! and Villazón turned in a passionate and hot-blooded performance that had the rapturous audience cheering, clapping their hands and singing along by the end – even those somewhat sceptical opera fans who had been muttering “This isn’t really my thing” before the concert started.

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Philippe Jaroussky in recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/3-half_stars.jpg

Carnegie Hall, New York, 29th October 2010, Richard Garmise

Grace Bumbry, asked some time ago about her status as a ‘diva’, is reported to have said, in her inimitable way, “In Europe, I am the Number 1 female singer, but in America I can’t even see the front of the line.”  In the American world of the counter-tenor, there is only, truly, one spot in that line, and it has been taken, for several decades, and for better and largely, in this critic’s view, for worse, by David Daniels. In fact there are a large number of home-grown American counter-tenors of high quality, from Asawa to Zazzo, but while many of them sing in opera (and from time to time at the Metropolitan Opera), only Daniels has the imprimatur of audience recognition. While this country still welcomes those yearning to breathe free (particularly if they have advanced degrees in computer programming, or a nursing qualification), we don’t really want your counter-tenors, thank you, and if they do come, please be assured that they will only receive short-term visas.

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Gerald Finley in recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/4-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 29th October 2010, John Wald

The Wigmore Hall has been celebrating the bicentenary of Schumann’s birth with a series of concerts aptly entitled Annus Mirabilis: The Songs of 1840.  1840 marked a year in Schumann’s life in which his output of lieder was as prodigious as it was remarkable; as the composer wrote to his fiancée in February of that year, ‘Oh Clara, what bliss it is to write songs.  I can’t tell you how easy it has become for me…It is music of an entirely different kind which doesn’t have to pass through the fingers—far more melodious and direct.’  Though Schumann’s facility for writing songs and song cycles during this period was astonishing, surely amongst his best were his settings of poems written by Heinrich Heine.  It is on this important part of Schumann’s oeuvre that the present concert focused; voiced by baritone Gerald Finley, the Heine settings stood out as some of the most singularly haunting and luxuriantly expressive in the whole of Schumann’s corpus of lieder.

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Angelika Kirchschlager in recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/3_stars.jpg

Howard Assembly Room, Leeds, 23rd September 2010, Dominic Wells

We know all too well that the cruel hand of history can grant even highly talented composers a very limited degree of posthumous recognition. In some, artists have desperately sought to fight such injustices, and Carl Loewe (1796-1869) has certainly had a plethora of champions to make his case, from Fischer-Dieskau and Schwarzkopf to Pregardien and Banse. Yet this contemporary of Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann is hardly a household name, even though CPO has bravely recorded the complete lieder and ballads of Loewe in twenty-one volumes with some first rate lieder-singers. In his lifetime, Loewe’s songs were well enough known for some to call him the "Schubert of North Germany", and the great lieder-specialist Hugo Wolf came to admire his work.

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Sarah Connolly in recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 11th September 2010, Calvin Wells

The celebrated English mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly needs no introduction to English audiences. According to her official website, among her many accomplishments are a CBE and a position as a Fellow of the Royal College of Music. Some of her past accolades include a nomination for a Laurence Olivier Award, a TMA Award, and two Grammy Awards. In addition she has won an Edison, Gramophone and South Bank Award. Her operatic roles range from Handelian parts such as Ruggiero (Alcina) and Serse (ENO), Giulio Cesare (Glyndebourne) and Purcell’s Dido (La Scala) to the romantic “big guns” repertoire of The Composer (The Metropolitan) and Didon (Les Troyens) etc.

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Karita Mattila in recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/2-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 10th September 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor

Well, I suppose I can start on an unequivocally positive note: by the end, the audience was whooping and cheering with the kind of unbuttoned that Mattila herself manifests. Alas, then, that for the rest I hardly know what to say, feeling more like the spectre at the feast than a participant in it.

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Prom 70: Philippe Jaroussky & Marie-Nicole Lemieuximages/stories/star_ratings/4-half_stars.jpg

Royal Albert Hall, 6th September 2010, John E. de Wald

I must admit to having looked slightly warily at the notion of staging a chamber concert devoted to Baroque music—especially one featuring the beautiful if slender strains of French countertenor Philippe Jaroussky--in the cavernous Royal Albert Hall.  Considering its 5,500 person capacity and ready penchant for suffocating far more robust genres and instruments, it did not at first glance strike me as terribly ideal.

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Prom 66: Karita Mattila, Berlin Philharmonicimages/stories/star_ratings/2-half_stars.jpg

Royal Albert Hall, 4th September 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor

For its second Prom of the 2010 season, the Berlin Philharmonic, under its principal conductor Sir Simon Rattle, presented a wide ranging of late, post and anti Romantic music written by Wagner, the three alumni known collectively as the “Second Viennese School”, and Richard Strauss. The second half, purely orchestral, comprised Schoenberg’s 5 Orchesterstücke Op. 16, Webern’s hyper-attenuated Sechs Stücke Op.6, and Berg’s Drei Orchesterstücke Op. 6, all three separate works performed continuously, as if some giant atonal triptych had been written by a schizophrenic, part dour demagogue and part impassioned hedonist framing Webern’s ascetic little hermit. Nothing much apropos for the Opera Britannia readership to be sure, but the more successful half of the programme I’m afraid, expertly played, scrupulously conducted and wholly engrossing.

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Berlioz: Les nuits d'ete, Prom 51, Nina Stemme images/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Royal Albert Hall, 23rd August 2010.

Prom 51 afforded a showcase of high Romanticism, centred on an intriguing pairing of Schumann and Berlioz.  Those composers aside, the was a decidedly Scandinavian one, with Swedish soprano Nina Stemme singing Les nuits d’ete, and Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard leading the Swedish Chamber Orchestra; it also marked the UK premiere of Albert Schnelzer’s A Freak in Burbank, a touch of modernity to mitigate the performance’s otherwise distinctly nineteenth century feel.

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Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Concertimages/stories/star_ratings/3-half_stars.jpg

The Royal Opera, 17th July 2010, Antony Lias

The annual Jette Parker Young Artists summer concert at The Royal Opera is a must see event for all those who enjoy talent-spotting and watching the future generation of opera stars mature and become prepared for a life on the stage.    The diversity of talent on display is very encouraging, with those singers who are about to “graduate” from the programme joining those who have just completed the end of their first year.  One can readily appreciate the difference that two years makes instead of one, with those second year performers generally exhibiting well-rounded, polished skills throughout the concert.

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Sumi Joimages/stories/star_ratings/3_stars.jpg

WASO, Perth, Australia, 2nd July 2010,Sandra Bowdler

Korean born soprano Sumi Jo is no stranger to Australian shores, where she is probably better known as a concert artist than as an opera performer.  This evening (and the following) were billed as Western Australia Symphony Orchestra’s 2010 Grand Gala and labelled a “black tie” event;  some attendees at the well-filled concert hall did actually rise to that challenge.  Special chandeliers were installed above the stage - this was never going to be some arcane recital but an all-stops-out crowd-pleaser, as indicated by the not exactly unfamiliar repertoire.  The audience, including an obvious core of Sumi Jo acolytes, was primed for an excursion into the showy and well-loved.  Alas, Ms Jo was suffering an ailment and from the first note it was clear that her voice was not its usual full-bodied self.  She carried on gamely however and despite struggling vocally provided an enjoyable evening of well-honed diva display.

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Elisabeth Meister & The Dulwich Choral Societyimages/stories/star_ratings/4-half_stars.jpg

St Stephen's, Dulwich, 26th June 2010, Antony Lias

St Stephen’s Church in Dulwich may not immediately spring to mind as one of the must attend cultural venues in theDulwich Choral Society managed to put on an evening of truly superb, showcasing a soprano whom I can confidently predict, will become one of the truly great voices of the future.  Consequently it is worth travelling anywhere to catch a performance featuring Elisabeth Meister.  All praise therefore is due to Aidan Oliver (the Musical Director of the Society) who managed to secure Meister’s services whilst it is still possible.  The end result was the sort of evening which will become ingrained in the memory of all who attended for a very, very long time.

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Anne Schwanewilmsimages/stories/star_ratings/4-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 16th June 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor

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Soile Isokoskiimages/stories/star_ratings/2-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 14th June 2010, Stephen Jay-Taylor

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Dmitri Hvorostovskyimages/stories/star_ratings/3-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 11th June 2010, John Wald

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Lawrence Brownleeimages/stories/star_ratings/4-half_stars.jpg

St John's Smith Square, 25th May 2010

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Gerald Finleyimages/stories/star_ratings/4-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 14th May 2010

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Rolando Villazónimages/stories/star_ratings/2-half_stars.jpg

The Royal Festival Hall, 3rd May 2010

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Andreas Scholl, Songs of Oswold von Wolkensteinimages/stories/star_ratings/4-half_stars.jpg

Barbican, 19th April 2010, Dominic Wells

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Sarah Connolly & Rosemary Joshua in Recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 1st April 2010, Faye Courtney

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Young Singers' Welfare Foundation Galaimages/stories/star_ratings/3-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 31st March 2010, Sebastian Petit

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Amanda Roocroft sings Straussimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Leeds Town Hall, Orchestra of Opera North, 27th March 2010, Geoffrey Mogridge

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Sarah Connolly in Recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 8th March 2010

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David Allsop in Recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

London Handel Festival, 8th March 2010

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Measha Brueggergosman in Recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 7th March 2010

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Handel Singing Competition, London, 4th March 2010

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Angelika Kirchschlager in Recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/3-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 25th February 2010

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David Daniels in Recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 21st February 2010

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Barbara Bonney in Concertimages/stories/star_ratings/2-half_stars.jpg

Kings Park, Perth (Western Australia), 13th February, 2010

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The Operas of Gluck: The Classical Opera Companyimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 20th January 2010

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Joyce DiDonatoimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 26th January 2010

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Glanville & Knapp: A Yiddish Winterreiseimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Purcell Room, 9th January 2010

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Schubert: Winterreise, James Gilchristimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

Kings Place, 17th December 2009

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Bejun Mehta

Wigmore Hall, 9th December 2009

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Philippe Jarousskyimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

The Barbican, 2nd December 2009

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Cecilia Bartoliimages/stories/star_ratings/4_stars.jpg

The Barbican, 24th November 2009

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Anna Caterina Antonacci in Recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/4-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 23rd November 2009

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Iestyn Davies in Recital

Wigmore Hall, 18th November 2009

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Bryn Terfel in Concert

Royal Festival Hall, 11th November 2009

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Angela Gheorghiu in Concert

Royal Festival Hall, 10th November 2009

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Soile Isokoski: Das Marienleben

Wigmore Hall, 10th November 2009

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New York City Opera Gala

New York State Theatre, 5th November 2009

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Renée Fleming: International Voices Series

The Royal Festival Hall, 3rd November 2009

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Schubert: Winterreise with Andrew Foster- Williams

Howard Assembly Rooms (Leeds -Opera North), 30th October 2009

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Simon Keenlyside & Graham Johnson in Recitalimages/stories/star_ratings/3-half_stars.jpg

Wigmore Hall, 26th October 2009

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Renee Fleming Masterclass at Juilliard

Peter Jay Sharpe Theatre, 20th October 2009

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Orff: Carmina Burana

London Concert Choir, Cadogan Hall, 21st October 2009

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Mariinsky Opera Galaimages/stories/star_ratings/3-half_stars.jpg

Wales Millennium Centre, 9th October 2009

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Last Night of the Proms

Royal Albert Hall, 12th September 2009

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Wigmore Hall Song Competition Final

Wigmore Hall, 10th September 2009

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Jette Parker Young Artists Programme: Summer Concert

The Royal Opera, 19th July 2009


"Antonio Pappano and Friends"

The Royal Opera, 24th June 2009


Last Updated ( Sunday, 19 December 2010 18:09 )  


Metropolitan Opera Finances

A few years ago, a friend at a party who worked for one of our largest investment banks asked me, "Richard, do you know how to end up with a small fortune at Lazard Frères? Give us a large fortune." Such memories came to mind, inevitably, in reviewing the tax returns and accounting statements of the Metropolitan Opera for the year ending July 31, 2009, which have just been released. One has to emphasize that all these numbers constitute nothing more than a snapshot of the moment, which don’t take into account more recent developments, and are, even as presented, in summary form. But the statements show a decline of almost 20% on investments (down to $246 million), and an almost equal decline in the total asset picture (down to about $423 million) at the same time as liabilities have increased, including continuing (and not uncommon) obligations to the pension fund.  Read More>>


Editorial Update: 20/01/10

Over the next few days you may notice a few peculiar things happening with the website as we undertake some necessary changes. Some of the reviews are likely to be missing their photographs on a temporary basis, as we re-organise the layout of the website. The biggest change will be to the Opera review page, where we will not only separate opera and oratorio reviews, but each opera company/venue will have their own unique review page. This will make it much easier for you to find reviews by company, rather than having to trawl through a very long list of operas which were previously sorted only by chronological date. Read More>>

Editorial Update 15/01/10

I am delighted to announce that Opera Britannia is now back online and more importantly, securely. For those readers who did not come across our Twitter and Facebook updates, we have since Christmas Eve been the target of a group of hackers determined to bring the website offline. We haven't as yet got to the bottom of the reason, aside from the fact that "political causes" were stated as the official cause! Naturally it has taken a considerable amount of work on the part of everyone involved with the website to make it as secure as possible. Read More>>

Domingo Cancellation

Placido Domingo has withdrawn from Tamerlano at The Royal Opera, following news that he needs to undergo "medically recommended preventative surgery". It is believed that he has been suffering from abdominal pains whilst performing in Tokyo and has been advised that an operation is required, with a rest period of approximately six weeks to follow. This has no doubt produced quite a headache for The Royal Opera who have heavily advertised Domingo's presence in this years schedule of operas. He is still due to perform in Simon Boccanegra in June, but one suspects that both The Royal Opera and the paying public will be on tenterhooks as to the likelihood of his participation.

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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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