I had not heard a bar of Gabriel Fauré’s only opera Pénélope and, in keen anticipation of a rare performance in Frankfurt, I speculated on what I might expect to hear, given my experience of his more familiar compositions. Romantic,…

You are in the theatre for Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny and are ready for the brilliance of Brecht’s sharp and sour political libretto and Kurt Weill’s hit music hall melodies, but do take heed of the richness of…

Meyerbeer’s Dinorah is a rarity even among his largely neglected works but the reluctance of opera houses to mount a revival is not difficult to explain. It is an odd mixture of Dark Ages mystery, fairy tale, and romantic madness…

I enjoyed Tim Benjamin’s small-scale opera Madame X when I saw it five years ago. The mixture of musical styles worked reasonably well for the libretto, a thriller about corruption in the art world. His most recent work, The Fire…

Attila is a typical piece from Verdi’s early-middle period with rousing melodic drive and a potentially interesting theme arising from the conflict between late Imperial Christian Rome and the invading pagan Barbarians. With their insistent forward-thrusting movement, the arias need…

If you have heard some of Nino Rota’s music it has probably been at the cinema; he wrote over 150 film scores, notably for Fellini and Visconti. But he also composed orchestral and chamber music and no less than ten…

Charles Villiers Stanford was a redoubtable figure in the Victorian and Edwardian musical establishment. He wrote ten operas. Little is heard of them today, so all credit to the Northern Opera Group for offering a fully staged performance of Much…

There are large numbers who return each year to the Gilbert and Sullivan Festival at Buxton and Harrogate; what do they want from performances? Cosy, reassuring tradition? Or something fresher, more stimulating, even perhaps innovative? The Artistic Director of the…

Hugo Wolf was, after Schubert, the supreme composer of Lieder and, given the recent revival of interest in the genre led by the Leeds and Oxford Festivals, it is disappointing that his songs are not performed more often. Perhaps it…

The operatic works of Antonio Caldara, dating from the early 18th century, rarely get an outing and so the performance of Lucio Papirio Dittatore at the Buxton Festival was most welcome. Set in ancient Rome, it explores the values associated…

It was bold of the York Early Music Festival to mount a full-scale single performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Not unexpectedly, given the expert and experienced forces engaged for the work, the music was executed with brilliance and passionate commitment.  The…

The name of the baroque composer Niccolò Jommelli might not be familiar to you. It wasn’t to me but he wrote over sixty operas and if some of them are as good as Didone abbandonata, which I have just seen…

It is always disruptive of a performance when one of the leading singers is sick and a last-minute replacement has to step in. One would have thought that this would be less problematic when the opera is Tristan und Isolde,…

Lotario was the first Handel opera I saw – in the early 1970s – and could have been my last. I was disconcerted by the da capo format, the sound (and appearance!) of a porky counter tenor, the banality and…

French baroque opera has the reputation of being somewhat boring compared to its German and Italian equivalents. No one who attended the performance of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie in Zurich could possibly agree. The solo arias may be less brilliant…

Mussorgsky’s Sorochintsi Fair is a strange work. Based on a story by Gogol, it deals with life and love in a Ukrainian village and with superstitions which are all-pervasive there. The plot is, to say the least, thin.  The Devil…

One does sometimes encounter the revival of a production nearly thirty years after it was first presented, particularly if it is of a very popular opera in an international house and used primarily as a vehicle for jet-setting star singers….

Johann Christian was the only Bach son to have had a cosmopolitan career and to write for the opera house. His last opera Amadis de Gaule, first performed in Paris in 1779, shows how he had successfully assimilated contemporary developments…

The succession of long da copo solo arias in Handel’s operas pose a dilemma for stage directors. Should they stop the action and allow the audience to concentrate on the music? Or, fearing boredom and at the risk of distracting…

The steady decline in the amount and quality of classic plays performed in theatres in England seems not to have attracted much attention and, in any event, little protest. In the second half of the 20th century, one could find…