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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Beidermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Andrew Shore (Punch) / Lucy Schaufer (Judy) [Copyright Catherine Ashmore/English National Opera]
06 May 2008

Punch & Judy at ENO

English National Opera’s production of Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Punch and Judy’ is the company’s second collaboration with the Young Vic Theatre — following the premiere of Neuwirth’s ‘Lost Highway’ a few weeks earlier — and remarkably, also the second London production of this early Birtwistle work within a month, the previous one having been at the Linbury Studio Theatre, a collaboration between Music Theatre Wales and the Royal Opera.

Harrison Birtwistle: Punch and Judy
English National Opera, Young Vic, April 21, 2008

Andrew Shore (Punch), Lucy Schaufer (Judy), Gillian Keith (Polly), Graham Clark (Lawyer) and Ashley Holland Choregos. Music Director: Edward Gardner. Director: Daniel Kramer.

Above: Andrew Shore (Punch) / Lucy Schaufer (Judy)
All photographs are copyright Catherine Ashmore/English National Opera


ENO has one particular coup up its sleeve. There can be few singers as well-suited to the grotesque, tragic-comic figure of Mr Punch as the baritone Andrew Shore, one of ENO’s most distinguished regular guests and a first-rate singing actor. In full puppet costume, he is the cross between a naughty child, a vicious murderous thug and a sinister nightmare figure — a nightmare which eventually implodes on him with the full force of half-a-dozen Punch clones and the ghosts of his victims.

Giles Cadle’s set and costume designs go all-out to replicate the iconic ‘Punch and Judy show’ look, in primary colours that look slightly shabby and sun-bleached. The stage is a circus-ring with a canopy of brightly-coloured fairy lights. But at the back, a freshly-dug grave is a reminder of the macabre inevitability with which Punch’s serial murders will be carried out.

Ashley Holland strikes an imposing figure as the Choregos, a Greek chorus-like figure who acts as a master of ceremonies, a narrator and moral judge, but who falls victim to Punch just like all the others. It is the Choregos and his murder that first blur the distinction between make-believe and reality, an idea which Daniel Kramer’s staging takes further by stripping away the puppet-costumes from the protagonists as events progress and the moral themes of the piece are developed. Most — including the Doctor and Lawyer, played by Graeme Broadbent and Graham Clark respectively — reach this state of human nakedness at the point at which Punch kills them. As for Punch himself, by the time he comes to feel remorse for the murder of his baby — the first of his crimes — he is no more than a bald, half-dressed, vulnerable human being. Only Gillian Keith’s ringletted, hyperactive doll of a Pretty Polly remains in ‘character', a fantasy figure to the last.

Birtwistle’s brutally uncompromising score — which supposedly upset Benjamin Britten so much at the work’s premiere that he walked out of the performance — is usually subtle and understated, atonal but far from tuneless. It juxtaposes banal nursery-ditties with ‘Passion chorales’ and tragic monologue. The insouciance of the little motif with which Punch shrugs off each murder strikes a vivid contrast with the murdered Judy’s plea for Punch’s reform, sung by the versatile American mezzo Lucy Schaufer.

Credit is due to the cast for managing to get the majority of Steven Pruslin’s wordplay-filled libretto across, and to conductor Leo Hussain (sharing the opera’s five-night run with ENO’s Music Director, Edward Gardner) for maintaining such dramatic coherence in the music.

2204ashmore209.pngA scene from Punch and Judy

Ruth Elleson © 2008

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