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2018: Best opera of the year

Scene from From he House of the Dead at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Scene from From he House of the Dead at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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This year welcomed a new 400-seat opera house at Nevill Holt, where the resident company staged successful productions of Figaro and Antony McDonald’s Powder Her Face.

In London, the Royal Opera House’s substantial and well received revamp saw the Linbury Theatre entirely renewed. The first operatic performances are scheduled to take place there in February 2019. On the downside, the charmingly situated Iford Opera sadly shut up shop at its long-term address and its future is as yet unannounced.

Barrie Kosky’s revue-like Carmen for the Royal Opera offered an excess of showbiz and a flawed edition of the score, but Krzysztof Warlikowski’s From the House of the Dead conducted by Mark Wigglesworth was exceptional.

Mark Wigglesworth: Opera’s stuffy packaging masks a thrilling gift

The company collaborated with the Roundhouse for The Return of Ulysses directed by John Fulljames and the Barbican for the new Mark-Anthony Turnage family opera Coraline. But the most interesting premiere of the year was George Benjamin’s Lessons in Love and Violence staged by Katie Mitchell to a libretto by Martin Crimp. David Alden’s fine Lohengrin offered an opportunity to replacement Irish soprano Jennifer Davis, which she seized. Welsh National Opera made a splash with David Pountney’s inventive La Forza Del Destino, the entertaining Rhondda Rips It Up!, composed by Elena Langer, and took a good shot at Prokofiev’s epic War and Peace.

English National Opera gained ground with some popular and finely achieved new productions: Cal McCrystal’s Iolanthe and James Robinson’s Porgy and Bess – conducted by John Wilson – turned out to be huge hits, with Daniel Kramer’s original take on Britten’s War Requiem making up for his terrible Traviata, and Timothy Sheader’s The Turn of the Screw – a joint venture with Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – a real chiller. Adena Jacobs’ Salome was adventurous.

Porgy and Bess review at London Coliseum – ‘a superb cast’

Staged by Edward Dick and conducted by Antony Hermus, Opera North’s Tosca was thrill-a-minute stuff. Borrowed from Opera Holland Park, Scottish Opera’s production of Flight and Ariadne Auf Naxos hit the spot.

The busy summer season saw Glyndebourne present a mystifying Pelleas Et Melisande by Stefan Herheim, though Keith Warner made a success out of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa.

Garsington’s exceptional season included a fine Capriccio, directed by Tim Albery and conducted by Douglas Boyd, a superb Bruno Ravella-directed Falstaff, and the company’s first full-scale commission in the shape of David Sawer’s The Skating Rink. At Grange Park Opera, the highlight turned out to be a musical with Jo Davies’ top-quality Oklahoma!, while back at the Grange Festival a self-referential Agrippina was widely enjoyed. Holland Park delivered a superb Traviata, directed by Rodula Gaitanou and conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren, a crisp Cosi Fan Tutte directed by Oliver Platt and conducted by Dane Lam, and a curiosity by Mascagni in the shape of the neglected Isabeau. And well done to Buxton, which put on the first professional UK staging of Verdi’s obscure Alzira.


Best and worst opera of 2018

BEST OF THE YEAR

From the House of the Dead (Royal Opera)

Polish director Krzysztof Warlikowski made his Royal Opera and UK debut with the company’s first staging of Leos Janacek’s final opera, set in what could be a modern prison anywhere and to a level of realism that made the whole experience extraordinarily powerful, underpinned by an exceptional musical performance under
Mark Wigglesworth.

WORST OF THE YEAR

La Traviata (English National Opera)

You can’t win them all, but this production by Daniel Kramer suffered from miscasting and a staging that was both crudely conceived and wildly overstated – just what the company did not need for a standard repertory piece that should have been designed to last. Kramer has said that this one won’t be back.

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