Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg in San Francisco

Falstaff and Die Meistersinger are among the pinnacles if not the pinnacles of nineteenth century opera. Both operas are atypical of the composer and both operas are based on a Shakespeare play.

Le Nozze di Figaro, Manitoba Opera

To borrow from the great Bard himself: “the course of true love never did run smooth.”

Arizona Opera Presents Florencia in el Amazonas

Florencia in el Amazonas was the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major United States opera houses.

Viva la Mamma!: A Fun Evening at POP

Gaetano Donizetti wrote a comedy or dramma giocoso called Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali (The Conventions and Inconveniences of the Theater), which is also known by the shorter title, Viva La Mamma!.

LA Opera Norma: A Feast for the Ears

Vincenzo Bellini composed Norma to a libretto that Felice Romani had fashioned after Alexandre Soumet’s French play, Norma, ossia L'infanticidio (Norma, or The Infanticide).

Alban Berg’s Wozzeck at Lyric Opera of Chicago

In order to mount a successful production of Alban Berg’s opera Wozzeck, first performed in 1925, the dramatic intensity and lyrical beauty of the score must become the focal point for participants.

Florilegium at 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).

Leoncavallo’s Zazà by 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.

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 : Biedermann 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.



Nicky Spence [Photo by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera]
26 Jun 2011

Two Boys, ENO

You would have had to be deaf and blind — or perhaps just a very wise monkey — not to have been aware that a young American composer called Nico Muhly was about to open at the English National Opera in London last night with a work called Two Boys.

Nico Muhly: Two Boys

Click here for cast and other information.

Above: Nicky Spence [All photos by Richard Hubert Smith courtesy of English National Opera]


Since late last year, it seems that the personable and obviously multi-talented Muhly has been (pardon the allusion) pushed down our throats from every media-angle, and by too many London hacks anxious to maintain their street-cred in Twitter-land. This kind of media blitz is obviously a two-edged sledgehammer: if the show bombs then everybody looks somewhat foolish, if it achieves critical and/or box-office success (I suspect the latter in this case) then we’ll probably get bombarded again all too soon with the next wonder-kid of modern music. Ah well.

Two_Boys_20.gifMary Bevan

At the world premiere of Two Boys last night, (cleverly being opened here and not at its co-pro alma mater of the Met) you would have been forgiven for thinking that you had missed the date and wandered into London Fashion Week. Everyone who had read all the supplements, all the tweets, all the blogs and listened to the podcasts — or even just came on spec because everyone else said they should — was there. It was achingly hip. Never mind — we all want opera extending its audience so why not? It probably swelled the coffers of the ENO champagne bar.

So how was it? Well, perhaps one should score it in TV Talent Show style and take it from there:

Story: 6/10, Music: 6/10, Production: 6/ get the idea I expect. Singers? Definitely 8/10, if only for commitment to the work, vocal characterisation, and damn good acting within the limits of the production.

Craig Lucas has written a libretto that is based on a true news story of some years ago about two boys, internet chat rooms, assumed identities and attempted murder and this story — slight as it is in dramatic terms — worked to a point. What was lacking was any depth of characterisation, any motivations or emotional developments to give the piece structure. Maybe that was part of the plan: certainly the waves of music that swirled and pulsed and counterpointed the long articulated lines of speech/song didn’t suggest much in the way of dramatic development or journey. Muhly’s work is difficult to describe; his music is like high-class mood-music, or perhaps those compositions carefully constructed and “written to picture” for an expensive nature documentary. It doesn’t challenge the listener, nor does it repel — but I doubt it delighted or surprised many either.

Two_Boys_04.gifSusan Bickley and Nicky Spence

The singers were universally good: the core of the story lies with the investigating police officer played by Susan Bickley (does she ever disappoint?) who has demons of her own to confront as a stranger in the strange land of her suspect’s virtual world of net friends. Her diction was excellent and character well-drawn. That suspect, who we know as “Brian”, is sung by young tenor Nicky Spence with a tremendous empathy for this pathetic, unintelligent, bullied young man who’s flashes of desperate anger at his uncomprehending parents just reinforce his weakness and lack of self esteem. That excellent work was matched by the amazingly confident performance of boy treble Joseph Beesley — one just hopes that the calculated evil inherent in his character doesn’t leave too much of a shadow. The many supporting roles were equally well presented and sung without a single unhappy choice — and singers and orchestra (under Rumon Gamba) seemed well-rehearsed and remarkably slick considering this was a first night of an entirely new work.

Two_Boys_24.gifJoseph Beesley and Nicky Spence

On the production side, a few good ideas were made much of but could have been given more emphasis — the video backdrops of world-wide internet “chatting” — words repeating, and reappearing, and often mirroring the actual sung words. Some of the best dramatic moments came with the chorus spread around and above the stage suggesting the vast numbers of internet chatters communicating endlessly and pointlessly from their sad individual bedrooms. The graphic video work was good — but again could have been so much more; in fact the whole production just felt as if it were treading far too carefully, too “nicely” and was afraid of upsetting anyone. All a bit anodyne, in essence. Perhaps they will push the boat out a bit more for its New York premiere? Somehow, I doubt it.

Sue Loder.

Six more performances through June and July: see

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):