Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.



From Where the Wild Things Are [Photo by Mark Allan / Barbican]
10 Nov 2012

Oliver Knussen: Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!

Marking Oliver Knussen’s sixtieth birthday came a BBC Total Immersion weekend at the Barbican: a double-bill of Knussen’s two operas written in collaboration with Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are and Higgledy Piggledy Pop! on Saturday, followed by a day of two chamber concerts, a film, and an orchestral concert conducted by the composer himself on Sunday.

Oliver Knussen: Where the Wild Things Are and Higglety Pigglety Pop!

A review by Mark Berry

Above: From Where the Wild Things Are

Photos by Mark


This co-production of the two operas with the Aldeburgh Festival and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association was a delight. Netia Jones employs a cunning, loving mix of animation and live action to retain as much as humanly possible of Sendak’s celebrated drawings. Sometimes we see more of one than the other, though the principal characters — the boy Max in Where the Wild Things Are and Jennie the Sealyham Terrier in Higglety Pigglety Pop! — are ‘real’ throughout. How much lies their — or our? — imagination? What is real anyway? The use of animation for the monsters save at the beginning and end of the first opera — we see the singers go behind a screen and emerge at the end, and of course we hear the, throughout — heightens our questioning. The screen in neatly reversed in Higglety Pigglety Pop! so that we see the secondary characters both on stage and on film. Again, what is real? Are not both varieties of apparition and/or depiction? In the land of the Mother Goose World Theatre, all the world’s a stage — a tribute, surely, as much to Stravinsky and his Rake’s Progress tribute to Mozart, the latter parodied in Knussen’s final scene, as to Ravel. (Both Higglety and Don Giovanni end 'outside' their dramas, in bright if tarnished D major.) The repetitions of that gala performance, the time-honoured tradition of a play within a play, unsettle as they should. What do they mean? When will they stop? Again, what, and who, is ‘real’? That is very much the stuff of imaginary worlds, strongest for some in childhood, but for many of us just as powerful in subsequent stages of our lives.

Crucially, the sense of fantasy in libretto and production is at the very least equally present in Knussen’s scores, kinship with Ravel especially apparent in Where the Wild Things Are. And we all know who composed the most perfect operatic depiction of childhood. Stravinsky sometimes seems close too, for instance in the fiercer rhythmically driven music of the second scene (Mama and her hoover), the Symphony in Three Movements coming to my mind. And the musical material itself of course delightfully pays tribute both to Debussy’s La boîte à joujoux and most memorably to Boris Godunov, direct quotation reminiscing of the Tsar’s ill-fated coronation when Max is crowned King of all Wild Things.

WTWTA_03.gifA scene from Higglety Pigglety Pop!

Ryan Wigglesworth’s direction was palpably alive to this sense of orchestral wonder and fantasy, his programme notes an exemplary tribute from one composer-conductor to another from whom he has learned a great deal. The tone of performance darkened in tandem with that of the score for Higglety Pigglety Pop! Detail was meaningful without exaggeration, for instance in the subtle pointing up of certain intervals associated with different characters. Those with ears to hear would do so, consciously or otherwise. Moreover, the orchestra’s response was as assured, as disciplined, as generous as the conductor’s direction. The Britten Sinfonia was throughout on outstanding form, thoroughly inside Knussen’s idiom, unfailingly precise without sacrifice to warmth of tone. Despite relatively chamber-like forces, at least in the string section (, one often felt that was hearing a larger orchestra, for this was anything but a small-scale performance. Indeed, accustomed as I am to hearing the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, there were many times when I should not have been surprised to discover that I had in fact been hearing the LSO.

Claire Booth headed a fine cast for Where the Wild Things Are, her Max as quicksilver on stage as vocally. Lucy Schaufer proved every inch her equal as Jennie in Higglety Pigglety Pop! Very much the singing actress, her deeper mezzo tones were perfectly suited to the darkened tones of the score. There is something a little dangerous about Jennie and the acting world of ‘experience’ for which she forsakes her comfortable home — yet in a sense all children must at some point act similarly. All members of the two casts, however, were richly deserving of praise, a particular favourite of mine Graeme Danby’s surreal, apparently innocent Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards. These performances came across as true company efforts, a state of affairs doubtless deepened by ‘experience’ in Aldeburgh and Los Angeles.

Mark Berry

Where the Wild Things Are

Max: Claire Booth; Mama/Voice of Tzippy: Susan Bickley; Moishe: Christopher Lemmings; Emil: Graeme Broadbent; Aaron: Jonathan Gunthorpe; Bernard: Graeme Danby; Tzippy: Charlotte McDougall

Higglety Pigglety Pop!

Jane: Lucy Schaufer; The Potted Plant/Baby: Susanna Andersson; Rhoda/Voice of Baby’s Mother: Claire Booth; Cat-Milkman/High Voice of Ash Tree: Christopher Lemmings; Pig-in-Sandwich-Boards: Graeme Danby; Lion/Low Voice of Ash Tree: Graeme Broadbent

Netia Jones (director, designs); Britten Sinfonia/Ryan Wigglesworth (conductor). Barbican Hall, Saturday 3 November 2012.

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):