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Newspaper Reviews on Operas and Musicals

This work is aimed at analyzing the tools and techniques used in the newspaper reviews which influence a reader’s decision to attend a performance. For this research paper, I have chosen four performances, which belong to the genre of opera or musical; a review for such performances should provide a reader with their evaluation in two dimensions: musical and dramatic. Thus, I can outline the following criteria which are crucial for my decision about attending the performance after reading a review:

  1. Idea. Nowadays we have dozens of cultural events every day around us, and the review should explain what makes the performance distinct in comparison to others. It can be an original plot or an unexpected director’s vision, or outstanding props, etc.
  2. Cast. The level of the actors’ performance is incredibly important for me, and the positive response about the play’s cast is a strong reason to attend a show. In my opinion, even if the idea and director’s work leave much to be desired, the actors’ performance can leave a positive impression.
  3. Musical component. For a viewer who is fond of opera and musicals, it is necessary to know the level of the vocal and instrumental part which he can expect; sometimes the single name of a famous virtuoso becomes a reason to attend the show.
  4. Overall evaluation and invisible hints. I think that both positive and negative opinions may influence my decision to attend a show: sometimes it is interesting to form a personal opinion and to compare it to that of a reviewer. As for the invisible hints, there are often some minor details in the review which catch our attention and motivation to attend a show.

I will estimate the newspaper reviews considering these criteria.

  • “Singers Save the Day” by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs. Performance: Madame Butterfly (opera). Place: Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House. Production: Dallas Opera.

First of all, the review gives positive feedback on the cast and their voices:

Adina Nitescu, last seen at the Dallas Opera as Elizabeth I in Mary Queen of Scots, has all of the vocal and acting tools to be a fine Butterfly…Tenor Brandon Jovanovich was superb as the clueless Pinkerton… It is refreshing to hear such a natural and effortless tenor voice… Even the smaller roles were first-class.

Vocal is the main aspect when evaluating an opera, and this performance is thus already worth attending, according to the author. Besides, what catches my attention is the actress’s task of portraying a 15-year-old Japanese girl who goes from innocent joy to suicide in just a few hours. It would be rather interesting for me to go to the opera and to watch how this task is accomplished.

As a rule, it is difficult to expect some outstanding ideas in opera’s staging, as this genre is quite conservative; the focus is more on the vocal and cast. The reviewer has spoken critically on the director’s approach calling it unwieldy; however, he says that none of this diminished a night of glorious singing and mesmeric acting, making this a memorable Butterfly, and this is consonant to my statement that a good cast can save the whole show and provide a good impression. As well, it will be interesting for me to see the original setting, which is the large, vacant set, with only a few blinds dividing the space. Therefore, I would attend this performance with pleasure.

  • “Hell of a Show” by Gregory Sullivan Isaacs. Performance: Don Giovanni (opera). Place: Bass Performance Hall. Production: Fort Worth Opera.

The eloquent title of the article is already a hint motivating to attend the opera. The overall tint of the review is also rather excited. The reviewer gives an excellent evaluation of the cast, being very generous when praising the actors’ voices:

Let’s start with the best of the best: Susanna Phillips, who sings Donna Anna. Praising her is really just a matter of jumping on an existing bandwagon… Her vocal technique is sheer perfection… You have a Donna Anna that would shine on any stage in the world…

Such an emotional response makes it impossible to forbear from attending the opera. Besides the vocal, the reviewer praises the actors’ performance:

You always believe him, even when caught red-handed in a big fat lie… Her portrayal of this alternately wise and silly woman is dead on. She can get genuine laughs with little more than a glance.

A combination of good vocal and acting is a necessary set for enjoying Mozart’s masterpiece, as the opera is very difficult for performing. A reviewer is not satisfied with the setting:

R. Keith Brumley’s unit set is supposed to portray a myriad of different settings but is not very effective in any of them. If you don’t already know where the action takes place, you’d be hard-pressed to discern it.

However, this remark does not make me disappointed about the performance: it will be even more interesting for me to see the unusual setting for the opera. Thus, the review promises much entertainment and pleasure from the actors’ performance. The reviewer says that the last scene of the opera is cut from this production, which is a bit strange, as it is still Mozart’s ending, and should be played. However, the review proves to be rather convincing for me, and I would like to attend the performance.

  • “Little House Musical A Bit Unsettling; Big Hand For Puppet Carnival” by Elaine Liner. Performance: Little House on the Prairie, the Musical (musical). Place: Music Hall at Fair Park.

The reviewer is rather critical about the director’s approach:

These hearty pioneers respond to disaster after disaster in typically hearty (theater) pioneer fashion—by singing spirited ballads and engaging in thigh-slapping yeehaw dancing alongside their fellow settlers. How unsettling.

Besides the script and staging, the reviewer criticizes the actors’ performance:

Gilbert’s talent…is best restricted to a small screen. On a large stage, she’s swallowed up; her thin, shaky singing never quite catches the big notes of the few brief songs… Even Gilbert’s speaking voice quivers as she carefully over-enunciates each word of dialogue.

Neither cast, nor staging is attractive in this play, says the reviewer, and this declines my motivation to attend a musical. The style chosen by the reviewer is also a means of influencing a reader, as the review is full of irony and audacious remarks:

“There’s. Something. You-u. Must. Know-ow. Low-rah.” Just. Like. Tha-at… Little House is a resoundingly dreary enterprise.

I must admit that the author has managed to persuade me as a reader that the performance is not worth attending. The review does not provide any positive evaluation about cast, staging, music, or script; it performs the musical as a low-quality show, close to the level of a provincial theater.

  • “Theater Review: [title of show] at Theatre Three in Dallas” by Richard Gould. Performance: [Title of Show] (musical). Place: Theatre Three. Production: Theatre Three.

The reviewer’s opinion is ambiguous:

I love the performers, tolerate the execution, have mixed feelings about the steady stream of witticisms and obscure references and am deeply disappointed (but, as mentioned, fascinated) by the script.

Despite the performance’s idea being original, it seems to be not worked out properly. The reviewer describes the audience’s languid reaction:

The night I attended, most jokes garnered a few isolated chuckles or titters, but nothing culled an audience-wide, uproarious response.

However, the author says that the show is able to charm a writer, a scriptwriter, or a journalist – in other words, a crowd that gets it. In my opinion, when preparing a performance, the director should consider the requirements of the audience and make the message delivered by the play clear to an ordinary viewer. In other words, the reviewer’s remark that the show makes too many obscure jokes and references, requiring the audience to be “in the know” about theater and Broadway, to appeal to mainstream audiences is hardly a good recommendation for the show. Besides, the reviewer gives rather negative comments on the director’s approach:

Songs require the cast to harmonize together, and it just never comes together… If a performer turns away from one portion of the audience, it shuts that portion out. This also diminishes vocal quality: it’s much harder to understand what someone is saying and to appreciate their singing when they’re facing 180 degrees away from you.

I think that the show about scriptwriting could have at least better script and staging. If a scriptwriter and a director do not understand that the performance’s message should be clear to the audience, or that an actor should not sing turning away from the audience, I can hardly assume that this is a good play about scriptwriting.


Goulde, Richard. “Theater Review: [title of show] at Theatre Three in Dallas”. Pegasus News. 2010. Web.

Isaacs, Gregory S. “Hell of a Show”. Theater Jones 2010. Web.

—–. “Singers Save the Day”. Theater Jones 2010. Web.

Liner, Elaine. “Little House Musical A Bit Unsettling; Big Hand For Puppet Carnival”. Dallas Observer 2010. Web.


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