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Opera reviews
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Photo © Julie Kim
Fidelio: English National Opera

‘Lionel Friend…controlled the score with a good sense of pace and structure.’
(The Daily Telegraph)

‘…intelligently paced and scrupulously moulded.’
(The Guardian)

Wozzeck: English National Opera

‘ENO’s much promised new production of Wozzeck - conducted superbly by Lionel Friend.’ (The Times)

The Plumber’s Gift : (world premiere) English National Opera

‘…the orchestra, working at full intelligence, life and splendour under Lionel Friend.’ (The Times)

The Tigers: BBC SO, BBC Singers & soloists

'Friend gave the whole teeming performance real energy and drive.' (Andrew Clements, The Guardian, January 2015)

'The entire project is directed with great assurance and a fine ear for detail by Lionel Friend... He reveals himself as a conductor very much at home with Brian’s often-complex sound-world. It must have been a prodigious feat of musicianship to master this huge score, rehearse it thoroughly and then lead the recording sessions. His is a very great achievement.' (MusicWeb International, March 2015)

'The Tigers is above all a "conductor’s opera" – in which capacity Lionel Friend acquits himself admirably… Few who listen to this recording would think it had not been preceded by a concert performance, so confident and assured is the realization. Friend brings a flexible approach to the "symphonic variations" portion of the Prologue, reflecting a need to maintain clarity throughout the often dense vocal writing… In the three symphonic dances conceived solely for orchestra, he galvanized the BBC SO accordingly – whether with the cumulative energy and dizzying Wagner-tinged climax of Wild Horsemen, the intuitive unfolding of Gargoyles with its synthesis of elements derived from Wagner, via Busoni to Schoenberg, or the more disjunctive progress of Lacryma with its interplay of angular energy and overt plangency.' (Richard Whitehouse, International Record Review, February 2015)

The Turn of the Screw: English National Opera

‘Not the least virtue of this revival is the conducting of Lionel Friend who makes the small-scale intimate sound of 13 solo instruments spread itself throughout the large auditorium without sacrificing the incisiveness of musical timbre.’ (The Times)

‘Lionel Friend conducts Britten’s most engrossing score with idiomatic mastery. It is as well paced as the spectacle is spacious… Mr. Friend’s tempi make for the total clarity of Myfanwy Piper’s text.’ (The Sunday Times)

The Turn of the Screw: Grange Park Opera

‘Musically this is a stunning evening. Lionel Friend’s orchestra catches every detail of the scoring to chilling effect: the fateful, muted timpani of the governess’s journey, horrid woodwind tremolos, birdsong, pizzicato passacaglia all played with literally dreadful impact.’ (The Times)

‘Musically, with Lionel Friend conducting the Orchestra of Grange Park, the production is excellent.’ (The Guardian)

‘Grange Park’s Screw is conducted by Lionel Friend and staged by David Fielding, both experienced players regularly overlooked by bigger companies… Words on Sunday were often drowned upstage, through no fault of Friend’s crisp orchestra.’ (Financial Times)

‘This is a powerful staging, and, thanks to Lionel Friend’s experienced conducting, a high-calibre musical performance. The diction of the entire cast is immaculate. The size of the theatre helps, but Friend is a stickler for comprehensibility.’ (The Sunday Times)

‘Musically, the production was in the experienced hands of Lionel Friend – veteran of Jonathan Miller’s ENO production – who may not have been able to get the youthful GPO Orchestra to sound like a crack ensemble, but managed to evoke an eerie sense of impending doom throughout and got immaculate diction from almost all of the singers.’ (Opera)

The Merchant of Venice, Polish National Opera, October 2014

'Lionel Friend, who conducted the performance, not only found the key to expressing Czajkowski's music but showed true passion for this music. He did not miss any of the composition’s subtleties and emphasised the work’s inherent characteristics.' (Jacek Hawryluk, Gazeta Wyborcza)

The Merchant of Venice, Welsh National Opera, September 2016

'Lionel Friend conducts with authority, vigilantly keeping the balance between singers and orchestra in check.' (Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph)

'The cast is exemplary…outstanding. And so is Lionel Friend’s conducting.' (Richard Morrison, The Times)

'The score is lyrical and strikingly expressive in the hands of conductor Lionel Friend and the WNO orchestra.' (The Independent)

The Lighthouse, Royal Academy of Music, May 2013

'Lionel Friend’s direction of the Royal Academy Sinfonia was quite beyond reproach; the orchestra sounded rejuvenated: precise, sardonic, and at times overpowering. The knife-edge balance between fatalism and human agency on stage was replicated, indeed engendered, in the pit. Quite outstanding!' (Seen and Heard)

'All three singers made an overwhelming impact, and when the 13-piece ensemble got into its considerable stride, the musicians and Lionel Friend did full justice to Maxwell Davies’s extraordinarily imagined, stream-of-consciousness score, now a 33-year-old classic.' (Classical Source)

'It is a gripping effective piece, and received an exemplary account under Lionel Friend, surely the most underrated of conductors.' (Michael Tanner, The Spectator)

Volo di notte; Il prigioniero: Oper Frankfurt

‘Zwar hat man Dallapiccola als den melodischsten unter den frühen Zwölfton-Komponisten bezeichnet, doch das Orchester spielt unter der spannungsvollen Leitung von Lionel Friend seine Macht oft genug aus.’ (Frankfurter Allgemeine)

The little green swallow, British Youth Opera, September 2014

'Lionel Friend conducts a well-prepared musical performance, with the Southbank Sinfonia supplying the secure orchestral underpinning.' (The Guardian)

'Conductor Lionel Friend's account is enthusiasm itself' (Bachtrack)

'Under Lionel Friend's capable direction the Southbank Sinfonia did sterling work in the pit creating some magical textures from very little.' (Planet Hugill)

Rusalka: English National Opera

‘Lionel Friend launched the opera in the most thrilling manner, emphasising the rhythms and bringing out all the magic of Dvorák’s score.’ (Opera)

Hänsel und Gretel: State Opera of South Australia

'From the sombre brass of the overture to the swirling strings, conductor Lionel Friend brings out the full range of colours in the score and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra responds with immense energy.' (The Adelaide Advertiser)

The cunning little vixen: British Youth Opera, September 2015

This season Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen was presented under the baton of the experienced Lionel Friend, demonstrating that the BYO could not have made a better choice for its new Music Director. (Barry Millington, Evening Standard)

Lionel Friend brings his years of expertise to bear as he leads the Southbank Sinfonia in Jonathan Dove’s reduced orchestration. What a consistently musical conductor this former ENO staffer is. He should be frogmarched back to the Coliseum pronto. (Mark Valencia, What’s on Stage)

The Makropulos Case: English National Opera

‘Lionel Friend senses the evolution of the music to its white hot climax with an uncanny feeling for its shape.’ (The Times)

Il Seraglio: English National Opera

‘Lionel Friend is clearly a Mozartian of unusual promise. The performance was well paced, the instrumental detail in which the score is so rich emerged with clarity and grace, and light textures were never achieved at the cost of musical substance.’ (Observer)

Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Oper Frankfurt

‘Am Pult des Museumsorchesters sorgt Gastdirigent Lionel Friend für einen modernen, der historischen Aufführungspraxis verpflichteten und schlanken Mozart-Klang.’ (Frankfurter Allgemeine)

Le nozze di Figaro, New Zealand Opera (May/June 2010)

'All credit to conductor Lionel Friend for securing such lively and well-upholstered playing, with some deliciously-delivered wind cameos accompanying some of Mozart’s most beautiful operatic arias.' (Peter Mechen, Middle C, May 15, 2010)

''This ensemble cast of singing actors was led by conductor Lionel Friend, stylishly supported by the Vector Wellington Orchestra. The music is the core of any opera, and Friend truly made it live on the night. A special delight was his insistence on true pianissimos, both from singers and orchestra, which tightened up the emotional intensity of the drama.' (

The Devils of Loudun: Royal Danish Opera

'In the pit, the Royal Orchestra and the British conductor Lionel Friend on the podium create an intense drama.' (JyllandsPosten, 14th February 2013)

'Perfect is also the musical interpretation. The conductor Lionel Friend and the Royal Orchestra manage to expose all the nuances in Penderecki’s intricate music, from the bombastic to the delicate.' (Skånska Dagbladet, 13th February 2013)

‘Lionel Friend hat in Kopenhagen äußerst pointiert dirigiert, so dass Zäsuren und Farbwechsel exakt mit szenischen Vorgängen zusammenfielen und dabei der Eindruck entstand, es sei wirklich die Musik, die das Drama vorantreibe.’ (Frankfurter Allgemeine, February 2013 )

The Devils of Loudun: Polish National Opera

On the podium, Lionel Friend finds the fine balance between precision and passion, and is rewarded with forceful orchestral playing and formidable singing, not least from the house choir. (Shirley Apthorp, The Financial Times, October 2013)

Madama Butterfly: English National Opera

‘Happily, Lionel Friend, who now conducts the piece, is an urgent and passionate Puccinian. Thanks to him this lovely score’s thrust of emotion, with ravishing sounds from the strings above all, comes over at full power.’ (The Guardian)

The Queen of Spades: English National Opera

‘Lionel Friend obtained a performance of considerable sweep and power from his vocal and orchestral forces, authoritatively pointing the subtlety of the composer’s late orchestral style.’ (The Independent)

‘…the presiding genius of this marvellously vital performance is without doubt conductor Lionel Friend, who brings out not only the bold dramatic strokes of the score but its many lyrical subtleties as well, inspiring some of the finest orchestral playing and thrilling choral singing the Coliseum has heard this season.’ (Punch)

Tannhäuser: New Sussex Opera

‘Lionel Friend’s conducting of the lavish score was magnificent, as was the orchestra. There was a freshness and sparkle about the playing and yet the sound had maturity, a deep rich sound that suggested, however implausibly, a long communal familiarity with the score amongst the players. Lionel Friend made the religious music tell impressively while the Venusberg was both brilliant and gorgeous. His pacing of the score was lyrically expansive, touched with an inevitability and rightness in the style of Reginald Goodall, and it was instructive to read in the programme both of Friend’s association with Goodall and that the performances were dedicated to Goodall’s memory.’ (Wagner News)

‘Lionel Friend draws from the NSO a very committed response which takes up the full challenge of Wagner’s lush, sumptuous sound. Not only the full orchestral palette with its wide range of colours registers but individual contributions too.’ (Mid-Sussex Times)

‘Lionel Friend drew some ravishing playing from his orchestra, and also handled the big public scenes with style and assurance.’ (Opera)

Tristan und Isolde: English National Opera

‘Mr Friend favoured broad, flowing tempos, allowing the music to develop its own momentum.’ (Opera)

‘Lionel Friend’s control of tension was admirable and the playing of the orchestra superb with fine, burnished string tone.’ (The Guardian)

‘The broad tempos were faithfully maintained and passionately swept up in moments of ecstasy, the climaxes to each of the three acts searingly effective within such an expansive but coherent context.’ (The Daily Telegraph)

Götterdämmerung: Perth International Arts Festival

‘Lionel Friend is a meticulous conductor, with a keen sense of focus and balance. He allowed the singers plenty of space, and kept the band from excessive bombast.’ (The Australian)

‘Under the guidance of British conductor Lionel Friend the orchestra delivered a stunning coup after a tentative start – virtuoso playing, gathering in strength and authority, throughout this long score…In choosing Friend to lead this project, Seán Doran was engaging the not inconsiderable skills of a musician whose craft has been forged through long years of background preparation for other, starrier maestros. Friend’s Wagnerian vision follows the philosophy of the legendary Reginald Goodall – a pace allowing time for the music to breathe but crucially affording utmost support to the singers.’ (Financial Times)

Parsifal: English National Opera

‘Lionel Friend makes an impressive job of it, conducting a reading that is both melodically spacious yet tautly defined rhythmically…The concentration Friend induced was considerable.’ (The Guardian)

‘Lionel Friend manages to imprint his own personality upon events with a good deal of success…the playing had a depth and richness of tone that is totally appropriate.’ (The Times)

An Allem ist Hütchen schuld, Bochum SO, October 2015

For it was impressive how the naturalness of Wagner’s composition was made clear by the Bochum Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Lionel Friend. Every entry sat firm. (WAZ Bochum, 20. Oktober 2015)

In Lionel Friend, the conductor who jumped in at relatively short notice, one is aware of his long-standing preoccupation with the literature of the late 19th and especially 20th centuries: this score has not for a long time, and perhaps never, sounded so full-bodied on the one hand and at the same time grotesque on the other. Its trenchant motivic workings stamped themselves on the listener equally memorably as the bitingly bizarre false harmonies of hell. The Bochum Symphony, on its best form, made the almost four-hour work an aural experience of the first class, so that already today one is looking forward to a DVD or CD of this production. (Opera Lounge, October 2015)

As far as the music was concerned, the performance was a triumph: Lionel Friend, who took over at short notice, led the Bochum Symphony in a very well-balanced presentation of the masterfully orchestrated late-romantic score, that now and again could not conceal the influence of Siegfried Wagner’s teacher, Engelbert Humperdinck. The vocal and orchestral achievements united to form a well-polished whole. If the performance should be preserved on CD, the production could be a splendid longer-term advertisement for this work of Siegfried Wagner’s. (Walter Keller, Orpheus, Jan-Feb 2016)

A Night at the Chinese Opera: British Youth Opera

Lionel Friend's conducting, meanwhile, brings out all the detailed nuances of Weir's instrumentation (Guardian, 13th Sept 2012)

Lionel Friend conducts them and the Southbank Sinfonia with a meticulous ear for Weir’s subtle and varied palette of sonorities (The Telegraph, 13th Sept, 2012)

Clear conducting from Lionel Friend gave Southbank Sinfonia’s account of the score a classy edge (Bachtrack, 13th Sept 2012)

At least in the pit the veteran conductor Lionel Friend steers the Southbank Sinfonia safely and often stylishly through this delicious score. (Richard Morrison, The Times 14th Sept 2012)

Updated: January 2023