Putin’s poisoning does not make an opera: first review

Putin’s poisoning does not make an opera: first review


norman lebrecht

July 16, 2021

Richard Morrison in the Times is the first to disparage last night’s world premiere of Grange Park’s new opera on The Life and Death of Alexander Litvinenko

He writes:

What’s alleged (but presented here as fact) is that Litvinenko was killed by having the deadly radioactive agent polonium-210 dropped into his tea by an old colleague, Andrei Lugovoy. That’s not the only murderous episode portrayed. Using masked actors spread through the auditorium, we also sit through a jolting re-enactment of the 2002 storming of the Dubrovka Theatre in Moscow by Chechen fighters (incited by Russian agents, the opera suggests).

He doesn’t like the music.

The whole project is undeniably worthy, but it would have worked far better as a spoken play or TV docudrama.

Full review here.

UPDATE: Other critics tells us they enjoyed the piece a lot more.


  • Wurm says:

    What does Morrison like? Nothing I can recall of any note, hence I don’t read him.

    • John Borstlap says:

      A critic has to be critical, that is his job description. If they are enthusiastic about something, that ondermines their credibility. So, they look for flaws and fortunately for them, they are provided with generous amounts.

      Strangely enough, most critics who fulfill their job description puffickly well when it’s about the performance, are surprisingly well-meaning about new pieces, so this critic is a very courageous man, laying his neck on the line.

      The general warm reception of new pieces – so opposite of audience reception – is due to the fear to appear in the next edition of Nicolas Slonimsky’s immortal ‘Lexicon of musical invective’ which shows the incredible critical misjudgements of works that have since entered the repertoire as master pieces.

      • Barry says:

        A critic does not have to be critical or look for flaws and it’s not inherent in the name or the ‘job description’.

        Critic is derived from the Greek word Kritēs meaning to judge or decide. There’s nothing to say a critic can’t judge something positively or decide that it is good.

  • Opera fan says:

    I agree with Morrison insofar as opera is not the best format to tell this story. How many people actually go to the opera these days, even without the COVID factor?

    A telefilm with major league talent would be the most effective way to remind the world of Putin’s depravity.

  • John Kelly says:

    I wonder when Gergiev is premiering this in Russia with the Maryinsky? (perhaps never?)

  • V.Lind says:

    Paywall. And no link to other critics…

  • Rupert Christiansen says:

    For what it’s worth, I found it even drearier and wanting of narrative drive and expressive lyricism than Morrison did. The libretto is pathetically banal.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    In the interval, don’t drink tea.