Friday 30 December 2022

2022 in Opera and Music Theatre reviews: Alessandro nell'Indie, The Wreckers, Armida, Rusalka, South Pacific and the Ring completed

Smyth: The Wreckers - James Rutherford, Philip Horst, Karis Tucker - Glyndebourne (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)
Ethel Smyth: The Wreckers - James Rutherford, Philip Horst, Karis Tucker - Glyndebourne (Photo Richard Hubert Smith)

2022 was a strong year for opera productions, and many of the ones that stayed in the mind were unusual operas, rarely performed works being newly investigated. Prime amongst these must be Ethel Smyth's The Wreckers, receiving its first professional stage production since the 1950s, at Glyndebourne in a new edition that restored its original form, and it was heard at the BBC Proms which meant that it went out to a huge broadcast audience. Another fine revival was Dvorak's Armida, receiving a fine production at Wexford Festival Opera with terrific performances from the leads, and an imaginative new edition that improved the work's dramaturgy. Opera Holland Park continued its mining of late 19th and early 20th century opera with a striking double bill of Puccini's Le villi and Delius' Margot le Rouge.

A turn-of-the-century opera of a different cast was Rimsky Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel, not quite a rarity but a welcome revival of a relatively underperformed work by English Touring Opera. Another such revival was Grange Park Opera's new production of Ponchielli's large-scale dramatic work, La Gioconda. On the frothier side, New Sussex Opera revived Offenbach's final operetta, Belle Lurette in a production of great style and charm. Not quite as frothy but still technically operetta, Cervantes Theatre gave the UK premiere of Pablo Sorozábal's Black, el Payaso at Grimeborn.

Moving to the bel canto repertoire, Buxton International Festival revived Rossini's La donna del lago in an imaginative production, strongly sung, with nary a kilt in sight, whilst Opera Rara gave a concert performance of Mercadante's Il proscritto, making you wonder why the work wasn't a regular on operatic stages.

Leonardo Vinci: Alessandro nell'Indie - Jake Arditti, Franco Fagioli & Mayan Licht - Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival (Photo Falk von Traubenberg)
Leonardo Vinci: Alessandro nell'Indie - Jake Arditti, Franco Fagioli & Mayan Licht - Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival (Photo Falk von Traubenberg)

There was plenty of Baroque opera too, and not just the usual suspects. At the Bayreuth Baroque Opera Festival, we heard a terrific modern revival of Vinci’s Alessandro nell’Indie with five counter-tenors recreating the original premiere where castratos sang the female roles. And Irish National Opera brought their wonderfully vivid production of Vivaldi's Bajazet to Covent Garden. Handel's more familiar telling of that story, Tamerlano had three very different outings during the year. A highly imaginative retelling using historical stagecraft from Cambridge Handel Opera, a production set in a strikingly designed but telling modern Middle-Eastern dystopia at the Grange Festival, and English Touring Opera's powerfully theatrical touring version with a strong account of the role of Bajazet.

Handel's Alcina was another opera that we heard multiple productions of, again vividly differentiated. Opera North gave us an intense modern take, whilst Glyndebourne opted for show-girl glitz, and Covent Garden gave us a very different kind of theatrical dazzle. All these performances were superbly sung, demonstrating the striking standard of modern Handel singing. 

English Touring Opera's Autumn season gave us two further Handel operas in addition to Tamerlano, all three going on tour around the UK, with vivacious drama in Agrippina, and showing that Ottone was far more than a musical curiosity.

Another composer that cropped up a lot, was of course Janacek. We managed to catch four performances. There were two very different takes on The Cunning Little Vixen, a large-scale modern production that emphasised the cycle of life at English National Opera, and HGO's smaller-scale version with a radiant account of the title role. Seriously unusual was The Excursions of Mr Broucek, which received a very rare outing at Grange Park Opera that demonstrated what an imaginative score this is. At Welsh National Opera, a new production of The Makropulos Affair included a mesmerising account of the title role.

Handel: Tamerlano - Jorge Navarro Colorado, James Hall - English Touring Opera (Richard Hubert Smith)
Handel: Tamerlano - Jorge Navarro Colorado, James Hall - English Touring Opera (Richard Hubert Smith)

New opera included three large-scale company achievements, Welsh National Opera's hugely ambitious Migrations with music by Will Todd, Mark Adamo's Little Women finally getting its UK premiere at Opera Holland Park, and a stark new production of Poul Ruders' The Handmaids Tale at ENO with an astonishing performance from Kate Lindsey. Smaller-scale new opera included Michael Betteridge's Voices of the Sands at Tête-à-Tête : the Opera Festival, and Judith Weir's Miss Fortune at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

It was a year for Gilbert & Sullivan too. Not only did Opera Holland Park renew its collaboration with Charles Court Opera with an engaging production of HMS Pinafore, but Scottish Opera brought its charming new production of The Gondoliers to the Hackney Empire. We had two Yeomen of the Guard, both set in the 1950s; at the Grange Festival, the stylish production eschewed amplification and showed a work full of substance too, whilst at ENO we had an imaginative large-scale re-invention of the work.

Other achievements included Grimeborn's terrific completion of its Ring Cycle, bringing the adventure to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion and making us hope that we will get a complete Ring. And Carmen popped up twice in two strikingly different re-inventions. At Opera North, the production was certainly not traditional, yet true to its spirit and dramaturgy, whilst Opera Holland Park's engaging new production returned to the work's Opera Comique roots.

Dvorak: Rusalka - Natalya Romaniw - Garsington Opera (Photo Clive Barda)
Dvorak: Rusalka - Natalya Romaniw - Garsington Opera (Photo Clive Barda)
The opera personality of the year must be soprano Natalya Romaniw whose achievements have included a stunning account of the title role in Dvorak's Rusalka at Garsington, and her Royal Opera debut as Tosca with Freddie de Tommaso as Cavaradossi.

The music-theatre highlight must be the revival of the Chichester Festival production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific at Sadler's Wells Theatre with stunning performances from Julian Ovenden and Gina Beck.

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