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. 

Verdi's Requiem at the Metropolitan Opera House

In a remarkable career spanning six decades in the theatre, Giuseppe Verdi 1813-1901, composed nearly 30 operas, at least half of which are at the core of today’s repertoire.  His Requiem, premiered in 1874, stands as a unique testimony to his artistic and human vision and is a setting of the text for the Roman Catholic mass for the dead as it existed until its revision in 1970. 

Marnie at English National Opera

Alfred Hitchcock’s film Marnie, starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery, was lightly based on the original book by Winston Graham.  Hitchcock’s film ending was more dramatic perhaps than the books.  The Composer, Nico Muhly, decides to stick more closely to the original book version, with skilful subtlety that is so prevalent in its musical score.

Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House

Lucia di Lammermoor was Donizetti’s 46th opera written in 1835 and based on Sir Walter Scott’s similarly titled novel.  It was premiered in Naples in its original Italian version, but very soon thereafter a French version (which is rarely performed) was commissioned for the Paris Opera.  Many of the great sopranos have sung the role of Lucia, some of whom have made their career as a result, such as Melba, Callas, Sutherland, Anderson, Serra, Gruberova and more recently, Damrau and Dessay.

Margherita & Risurrezione at Wexford Opera

Doctor Tom Walsh must have known the best medicine to cure all of his patients, because it was he and a group of opera lovers that founded the Wexford Opera Festival in 1951 and indeed he became the Festival’s first Artistic Director.  Thereafter, some notable artistic directors have come and gone, namely Brian Dickie pre Glyndebourne and Elaine Padmore pre Royal Opera House.  The current Artistic Director is David Agler, who has been in the role since 2005 and the Chairman is the wonderful Ger Lawlor who is always at the front door to meet and greet patrons as they arrive. The new Wexford Opera House has been rebuilt on the same site and was opened in 2008.  The Festival indeed is a marvel of creation, with the wonderful Irish people always ready to greet its visitors. Never far away is the wonderful smell of the Lobster Pot pub and salt from the Atlantic Ocean nearby.

The Pearl Fishers at LA Opera

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which was opened in 1964, seating 3,200 people, is a beautiful opera house.  There is lots of wood and no carpet and the sound is excellent and everything is tall and big, quite typical of such concert halls in America.  However, the seat rows are at times more than 60 seats long with no middle section.  That’s a long walk along the row if you start at the wrong end!  I particularly reflected on the initial announcement made in the auditorium asking the audience to ‘refrain from talking during the opera’! 

Barber of Seville at English National Opera

Nearly 30 years has passed since Jonathan Miller’s production of the Barber of Seville adorned the Coliseum stage of the English National Opera.  The moving sets are clever, well lit, light and as relevant today as they were 3 decades ago.  The biggest complement to the restaging by Peter Relton was the joy in which it was received by Jonathan Miller himself, who said ‘its brilliance is nothing to do with me!’  Relton has found comedy and humour where previously there was none, in this 18th century Seville setting. 

Das Wunder der Heliane at Vlaanderen Opera House Antwerp

Erich Wolfgang Korngold was born in 1897 in Austria/Hungary and died at the age of 60 in California.  He was a child prodigy, having a great European career until the rise of the Nazi regime forced him to flee to America in 1934.  Thereafter, he worked on some 16 Hollywood films, writing the scores and receiving two Oscars for his work.  His main classical work was written in Europe and this particularly applies to the opera, Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane), which is written in three acts and was first performed at the Hamburg State Opera in October 1927. 

Aida at the English National Opera

Aida was premiered in Cairo’s Opera House at the end of 1871, having been commissioned by the Isma’il Pasha.  Its premier was meant to coincide with the opening of the opera house, but as a result of the Franco-Prussian war the scenery and costumes were stuck in Paris and Verdi’s Rigoletto was performed instead, with Aida premiering later in the year.  The premiere was met with great critical acclaim and the European premiere was held in February 1872 at La Scala Milan.  Over the next 20 years the opera became part of the staple repertoire of opera houses all over Europe and America, where different productions tried to deal with the passionate nature of relationships between three high born individuals, ultimately ending in inevitable betrayal. 

La Boheme at Royal Opera House

What is a banker in operatic terms?  This is not a financial question!  Stand up Richard Jones for producing a La Boheme banker for the Royal Opera House, which will undoubtedly be performed for many years to come, but I imagine not as much as the wonderful old production by John Copley. 

Passages by Ravi Shankar & Philip Glass

This was the first complete live performance of the work, Passages, composed in 1990 by Shankar/Glass.  It was a particularly emotional performance as the lead sitar player was Shankar’s daughter, Anoushka.  Shankar led a fairly complicated personal life, but Anoushka, who was born in 1981, was his last child and became an excellent sitar player of star quality in her own right.