Chess at the English National Opera

The opening of the rock opera production of Chess was written in 1984 by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, with lyrics by Sir Tim Rice.  Chess is the sequel to the English National Opera music theatre production at the Coliseum, which began with Sweeney Todd starring Bryn Terfel, Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close and Carousel starring Katherine Jenkins and Alfie Boe.

Michael Zaoui Premiere with the Aurora Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall

What a privileged evening this was. 


Michael Zaoui, banker, is a governor of the South Bank.  At the age of 14 he tried to join conducting classes at the Paris Music Institute and was instantly rejected.  This rejection has lived with him ever since and was only cauterised with this concert, which was Michael’s premiere with the baton.  He has worked hard every day over a year on his dream to conduct, and was helped in his efforts by the wonderful Sian Edwards at the Royal Academy of Music.  In his ‘dream come true’ moment he was incredibly lucky to not only be the first – even trial – concert at the re-opening of the new Queen Elizabeth Hall, which has been closed for 2.5 years, but also had the privilege of conducting the wonderful Aurora Orchestra, who will be the resident orchestra at the QEH. 

Macbeth at the Royal Opera House

Verdi’s first version of Macbeth was completed in 1847.  It was his first Shakespeare play that he adapted for the operatic stage. This was a golden period of composition by Verdi stretching 16 years, which saw him produce 22 different operas, including, amongst others, Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata. 

La Traviata at the English National Opera

La Traviata had a somewhat complicated beginning. This opera – The Fallen Woman – is a Verdi opera in three acts, adapted from the novel La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas. It opened in 1853 at La Fenice in Venice. Despite the Composer’s wish for a contemporary setting, the local authority insisted that the action be set in the early 18th century and it wasn’t until the 1880s that a more contemporary production was staged. In the original production, the acclaimed soprano singing the lead of Violetta was booed because she was considered to be too old (at 38) and too overweight to credibly play a young woman dying of consumption!

Satyagraha at the English National Opera

This incredible opera written by Philip Glass had its world premiere in 1980 in Rotterdam and its UK premiere in Bath in 1997.  Its main commissioning in the UK was an incredible production at the English National Opera in 2007, in conjunction with the Metropolitan Opera New York, with the Director Phelim McDermott and his Improbable team in charge. 

Salome at the Royal Opera House

If this is how the Royal Opera House is starting 2018, then we are in for a vintage year. 


Oscar Wilde’s original French play Salome, translated into German all in one Act, is just under 2 hours of intense brutality and unyielding musical brilliance, built on a theme of eroticism and murder.  It was first performed in Dresden in 1905 and Gustav Mahler himself wanted to conduct the opera in Vienna, but in fact the censors refused consent and did not relent until 1918.  It was initially banned in London until performed at Covent Garden under the baton of Thomas Beecham in 1910. 

Rigoletto at the Royal Opera House

If the French had anything to do with it, Rigoletto would never have been performed.  Based on Victor Hugo’s play ‘Le roi s’amuse’, where Verdi described the subject matter of the play as ‘immense’, it was highly controversial as it depicted the King of France as an immoral and cynical womaniser.  As a result, the opera had to undergo many changes before the censors allowed it to be performed, opening at La Fenice in Venice in 1851.  Even though the King of France was deleted from the opera – he was converted to the Duke of Mantua – the opera was banned in France and not performed there until 1882. 

Semiramide at the Royal Opera House

Gioachino Rossini was born in 1792 and was a prodigious composer of operas – composing 39 altogether.  At the age of 31 he composed his last opera in Italy, being Semiramide, which had its premiere in 1823 in Venice.  The music recreated the Baroch tradition of decorative singing with unparalleled skill.  The ensemble scenes, particularly the duos between Arsace and Semiramide, together with the choruses, are of an extremely high order. 

Cavalleria rusticana & Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House

These two operas, Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni and Pagliacci by Rugerro Leoncavallo, both had their world premieres in the last decade of the 19th century and in fact were first staged as a double bill at the Metropolitan Opera New York in December 1893.  They have both been hugely successful as a duet and indeed the original Director of this revival, Damiano Michieletto, has brought a common theme to the two operas, relocating them both to a small town in Southern Italy, with a bakery for the Cav and a community hall for the Pag.