Empowered comic victory: Ethel Smyth’s The Boatswain’s Mate, Grimeborn

The celebrations of the centenary of Women’s Suffrage in Britain have reached Dalston’s cultural heartland as Spectra Ensemble present a little-known opera by Suffragette composer Ethel Smyth, The Boatswain’s Mate, at Grimeborn. Smyth had to fight hard to become a composer, and even harder to get her work on stage, but she won through on both counts,…

Kimonos and karma: Puccini’s Madame Butterfly at Iford

Madame Butterfly enjoys extraordinary popularity today: even people who have never been to an opera in their lives could probably recognise its title. But why? Despite its surface familiarity, it’s a dark, upsetting piece, entirely devoid of romance, brimful of callous manipulation. Above all, its score is a far more challenging, experimental listen than we…

Une princesse inconnue: Isouard’s Cendrillon, Bampton Classical Opera

The little-known Cendrillon of Franco-Maltese composer Nicolò Isouard is the opera on which Rossini based his blockbuster hit La Cenerentola, which swiftly pitched Isouard’s Cendrillon into obscurity. On the opening night, possibly the opera’s UK première, the rain poured unhelpfully down on Bampton’s exquisite Deanery Garden, but spontaneous umbrella jokes (rhyming nicely with ‘Cinderella’) were…

Everybody loves David: Handel’s Saul at Glyndebourne

Barrie Kosky’s vividly abstract production of Saul for Glyndebourne embraces every emotional detail of this dramatic oratorio, from its exhilarating choruses to its raw, intimate family scenes. Kosky adds voices beyond Handel’s music: we hear laughs, shouts, cries, sobs, sighs, gasps, even spoken words around and between the score, fleshing out each moment with human detail.…

A game of two halves: Ariadne auf Naxos at Longborough

Should divine visions of philosophical beauty be cut short by practical things like food or fireworks? Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos is an opera of two worlds in collision, and Anthony Negus, conducting the Longborough Orchestra, worked the score’s lightning moodswings and dreamily re-echoed themes into a glittering, believable whole. Stunning central performances by Clare Presland,…

Queen’s dating dilemma: Handel’s Partenope at Iford

Partenope is a perfect comic storm of seduction, jealousy, fidelity and infidelity, gender-bending and downright skulduggery, anchored in the sharp human tension of true love. Many of these tropes are familiar Handel fare, but Partenope is set apart by the unnerving genuineness of its emotional dynamics, which ripple and transform from scene to scene, as the game of…

Shame, camera, action: Verdi’s La traviata at Longborough

Heavyweight opera behemoth /institution La traviata is always in need of agile, intelligent reworkings like Longborough’s intriguing new production. Daisy Evans’ incisive update makes Violetta Valéry a Hollywood filmstar in the late Fifties, taking inspiration from the celebrated, yet tortured life of Marilyn Monroe. While this has certainly been done before (memorably by Grange Park Opera in 2014), Evans’…

Songs of innocence and experience: Verdi’s Falstaff at Garsington

Bruno Ravella’s fast-paced direction for Garsington Opera honours Falstaff’s intense immediacy with a clear emphasis on dynamic physical and visual comedy underpinned by taut stagecraft, while still allowing time for its vital moments of pathos to breathe on stage in this subtle, elegant production. Henry Waddington’s dextrous characterisation means Falstaff’s connection to Rigoletto, another Verdi tortured clown, feels unmistakeable.…