Category Archives: Opera Review



(Ross’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 8/22.)

In Salzburg, Thomas Adès gives Luis Buñuel’s cool, eerie film from 1962 a new, tragic volatility.

The British composer Thomas Adès is as compelling as any contemporary practitioner of his art because he is, first and foremost, a virtuoso of extremes. He is a refined technician, with a skilled performer’s reverence for tradition, yet he has no fear of unleashing brutal sounds on the edge of chaos. Although he makes liberal use of tonal harmony—including opulent, late-Romantic gestures, for which mainstream audiences profess to be starved—he subjects that material to shattering pressure. He conjures both the vanished past and the ephemeral present: waltzes in a crumbling ballroom, pounding beats in a pop arena. Like Alban Berg, the twentieth-century master whom he most resembles, he pushes ambiguity to the point of explosive crisis.



(Rupert Chrisiansen’s aricle appeared in the Telegraph 8/9.)

As we present our Glyndebourne stream of 'Béatrice et Bénédict’, Rupert Christiansen asks why so many composers love the Bard

At the last scholarly count, almost 300 operas have been drawn fromShakespeare’s plays. These range from The Fairy Queen, Purcell’s late 17th-century fantasia on the theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, to musty obscurities such as von Lichtenstein’s 19th-century Ende gut, alles gut (All’s Well that Ends Well), and modern novelties such as Brett Dean’s Hamlet and Ryan Wigglesworth’s The Winter’s Tale – both of which receive their world premieres next season, at Glyndebourne and the London Coliseum respectively. 

In general, it is plot and character, rather than Shakespeare’s poetic language, that have provided the inspiration for operas based on his plays. Although Britten used Shakespeare’s text for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, cutting it drastically but leaving it otherwise virtually unchanged, this is an unusual practice. The great majority of composers have worked up completely new librettos, which make only general or passing reference to the original words. 

(Read more)


(Steph Powers’s article appeared in the Independent, 5/26.)

Suffering from suicidal depression, Sarah Kane experienced her sharpest, most anguished clarity at 4.48am: hence her visceral final play, 4.48 Psychosis. In it, mental extremes are unflinchingly distilled. Wreathed in dark humour or bleak, lyrical beauty, words fragment and coalesce through angry pain and medicated stupor into skinless and terrible lucid freedom.

Where this first ever operatic setting by Royal Opera/Guildhall Composer-in-Residence Philip Venables succeeds is through simple honesty. With a score ranging guilelessly from motoric arrhythmia to wispy renaissance, director Ted Huffman and team attempt neither dramatic adornment nor explanation but allow the text to breathe within a kaleidoscope of inner-outer conflict.




(Ben Brantley’s and Anthony Tommasini’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/30; via Pam  Green.)

When the Metropolitan Opera announced it would forgo the traditional darkening makeup for the title character in its new production of Verdi’s “Otello,” it set off the latest in an ongoing series of debates about the depiction of race in theatrical settings. In an email exchange, two critics for The New York Times — Ben Brantley, whose specialty is theater, and Anthony Tommasini, whose area is classical music — discussed the “Otello” staging, the uses of blackface, casting trends and more. Here are excerpts from their conversation. 

ANTHONY TOMMASINI Colorblind casting has taken hold over the last couple of decades, both in the theater and opera worlds. Today, if a production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” (or Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” in the opera house) starred a black Romeo and a white Juliet, it would simply be a nonissue.

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(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 8/10.

It seems like an innocuous question, asked by a chatty Irish woman of a hesitant English couple who have arrived to Ireland by ferry: “Was it a nice crossing?” But in Donnacha Dennehy and Enda Walsh’s darkly absorbing new opera, it becomes something more freighted. “Well, it was a bit choppy,” offers the husband, “but painless enough, all right.” From this point on, the crossing will be choppier and hardly painless.

Inspired by the grim, true story of an Irish woman’s assisted suicide in 2002, but radically transformed, Dennehy’s score and Walsh’s libretto provide a work of wide imagination, unsettling meditation and archly quotidian detail.

Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http 2015:// . If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at


(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 10/25.)

Though many people trace the beginnings of New York City Opera's downfall to its 1966 move from New York City Center to a new home at Lincoln Center (in what was then called the New York State Theater), the events that led to NYCO's filing for bankruptcy last month actually occurred far more recently. As a surprising recent article by James B. Stewart revealed in The New York Times, the cold fiscal facts had little to do with either the company's artistic profile or the "business model" on which it was run, although both could be said to have helped grease the company's steep downslide. Ultimately, the cause was sheer, and shocking, monetary mismanagement, under former board chairman Susan L. Baker's aegis: Beginning in 2008, the company's substantial endowment ($51
million as recently as 2001) was simply thrown overboard in a series of panicky gestures that actively shriveled both NYCO's producing presence and its financial stability.

Raids on a nonprofit institution's endowment, as Stewart points out, can only be made after clearing
a series of legal hurdles. The mayor's office, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, and an assistant to the state's Attorney General all signed off on the deal — though the last of those, at least, saw fit to attach to her approval a list of stringent restrictions (apparently not all heeded by the
board). Under this less than vigilant custodianship, City Opera rolled rapidly downhill to its inglorious mid-season termination.


(From Theatermania, 10/18.)

New York City Opera has died. I grieve for its lost glories, mostly now long gone, but I'm not going to fill this essay with mournful memories. Instead, I think it would be wise to consider what sort of institution New York should create to replace NYCO. So we had better consider what City Opera achieved, why its existence was (and could again be) important to the city, and what went wrong
to cause its shockingly speedy downward spiral, after more than six decades of comparative success.

For make no mistake, a replacement institution will certainly arise. The nonsense currently being spouted about New York City's inability to support two opera companies, is, precisely, nonsense. New York City, bursting with wealth and artistic talent, can support any damn thing it needs; the trick is making it see that a given thing is needed. During the bulk of its 70-year life, City Opera was able to make a convincing case for that need. Inevitably it faced struggles, including financial struggles: No opera company in history has ever lived without them. Opera is expensive, and its success cannot be wholly measured at the box office. Unlike other kinds of theater production, it tends to require large ongoing forces. For those who act in spoken plays and vernacular musicals, a rotating repertory may be merely desirable as artistically nourishing — I personally see it as optimal — but for the singers of opera's long, vocally arduous leading roles, repertory is a physical necessity.



(from Der Spiegel, 5/9.)

A staging of Richard Wagner's "Tannhäuser" — set during the Holocaust and including a gas chamber and a shooting scene — shocked audience members so badly that some had to be given medical attention. The theater has now cancelled the production out of fear it will damage its artistic reputation.

Düsseldorf's Deutsche Oper am Rhein opera house announced late Wednesday it was cancelling a highly controversial staging of Richard Wagner's "Tannhäuser" after outraging audiences at its premier on Saturday.

Director Burkhard Kosminski set the production in the time of the Nazi regime in an effort to address the controversial but popular composer's anti-Semitism and the later influence he would have on Nazi ideology. The staging depicted the character Tannhäuser as a Nazi war criminal and it even included a gas chamber on stage.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Deutsche Oper am Rhein said its managers had been conscious ahead of the premier that the production would be controversial. "We are reacting with the utmost concern to the fact that a few scenes, particularly one involving a very realistic depiction of a shooting scene, appears to have created such a strong stress for numerous visitors, both psychological and physical, that they had to receive medical attention afterwards."


(Miriam Elder's article appeared in the Guardian, 5/31.)

Riot police on the stage of the Mariinsky, missiles rolling across the Bolshoi – opposition to Vladimir Putin's rule has suffused Russian culture to such a degree that it has reached the stages of the country's most vaunted theatres.

Last weekend, the latest production to allude to the opposition protests that have brought tens of thousands onto the streets of Moscow opened at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, Putin's hometown.


(Joshua Kosman's article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on June 12, 2010)

What could be more exhilarating than a full-scale operatic triumph, joining musical splendor with sleek dramatic insight and an imaginative visual component? Well, how about one that points the way, at least in part, toward more of the same?


To see clips from San Francisco Opera's 2010 'Die Walküre' click on the link below

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