Opera

Between Passion and Duty

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Review of 'Un Ballo in Maschera' by Giuseppe Verdi, Royal Opera House, London

Un Ballo in Maschera (A Masked Ball), written in 1859, originally dealt with the assassination of King Gustavus III of Sweden but the Neapolitan censors, unhappy about anything that implied disrespect for the monarchy, forced Verdi to reset it in colonial New England. In this revived production, Italian director Mario Martone has relocated it again, a century later, to Boston during the American Civil War. King Gustavus is now Riccardo, governor of Boston.

A Conspiracy Theory

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Review of 'La Clemenza di Tito', David McVicar, English National Opera, London and 'The Magic Flute', David McVicar, Royal Opera House, London

Both these operas, written in 1791, the last year of Mozart's life, show how the European Enlightenment - the 18th century cultural movement that sought to combat religion and medieval superstition while asserting the primacy of reason and science - influenced him. As far as society and politics were concerned, the Enlightenment proclaimed the supreme values of freedom and equality. The law stood above kings and aristocrats with a constitution that had to maintain a balance of power between the rival institutions.

The Power Circle

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Review of 'Siegfried' by Richard Wagner, English National Opera

Siegfried is the third of four operas that make up Wagner's Ring cycle. Over a total 15 or so hours of opera we see the destruction of the ancient Norse gods and their home Valhalla - paid for with gold stolen by their leader, Wotan.

Wagner was one of the greatest composers of the 19th century, and his music makes the Ring into a monumental work, a mythic tale of the treachery of the gods and the destruction of the world.

Sex Transcends the Barriers

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Review of 'Don Giovanni' by Wolfgang Mozart, English National Opera

Don Giovanni deals with the story of Don Juan, the irresistibly attractive man to whose charms women succumb even though they know he is a philanderer. In a superb early aria, Don Giovanni's servant Leporello (Iain Paterson) tries to convince the abandoned Donna Elvira to forget about him by reading out a list of his master's 'conquests', but to no avail.

Don Giovanni deals with the theme (or fantasy) of unbridled sexual indulgence, a challenge to Freud for whom sexual restraint was a precondition of civilisation. In this sense, it applies to women as much as to men.

Obscure Ringtones

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Review of 'The Valkyrie' by Richard Wagner, English National Opera at the Coliseum

The Valkyrie is the second in Wagner's cycle of four independent operas known as The Ring of the Niebelung, a complex story derived from German medieval mythology with a motley cast of characters - gods, humans, giants, dwarfs and Rhinemaidens.

Love Can't Buy You Money

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Review of 'Rhinegold' by Richard Wagner, English National Opera at the Coliseum

Wagner's music represents the high point of German Romanticism and gives powerful expression to German nationalism. In his early life, he was involved with a liberal nationalist organisation called Young Germany, and in 1848 he welcomed the outbreak of revolution throughout Europe with a poem celebrating the uprising in Vienna. When the revolutionary wave reached Dresden in May 1849 he became editor of a republican weekly and narrowly escaped arrest.

Peeping Toms and Jerry

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Review of 'Jerry Springer: The Opera', director Stewart Lee, National Theatre, London

Jerry Springer: The Opera' is a highly original and exhilarating show that is both a satire on the successful US TV show and a serious modern opera. In the TV show, conflictual couples are invited by Springer to air their disputes in public and to submit to criticism or mediation by him and members of the studio audience. The results are orgies of brash self revelation in which the participants expose their innermost secrets to a gawping and at times mocking but invariably fascinated national audience.

Divided Loyalties

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Review of 'A Masked Ball' by Giuseppe Verdi, English National Opera, London

The new production of Verdi's 'A Masked Ball' (1859) by Spanish director Calixto Bieito has unleashed a wave of media hysteria. Not only has Bieito transferred the setting from 18th century Sweden to post-Franco Spain, but he seems almost to have invited controversy--the opera opens with a row of 14 conspirators sitting on the toilet.

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