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Cenerentola charms

3 Mar

Opera North’s new Cenerentola begins in Don Magnifico’s dancing school.  During the overture, we see him giving a lesson to some ghastly-looking children.  I started giggling happily at Henry Waddington’s preening, not-too corpulent Magnifico going through his paces after about three seconds and the smile remained on my face for the remainder of the evening at the performance I saw that Newcastle’s Theatre Royal on 2nd March.

Aletta Collins’s production manages to be witty and touching in the right places and gets as close to the heart of the piece as any other that I’ve seen.  It would be easy to think that this was just a neatly choreographed romp were it not for the tenderness of the Ramiro/Angelina duet, for the sheer nastiness of the way Magnifico and the sisters treated Angelina and for the happiness of the ending.  Her take on the opera uses Giles Cadle’s unit set really effectively, moving from dancing school to backstage at the ball really cleverly and without making you feel short-changed.  It’s possible to take this opera too seriously and I thought Collins got the balance spot-on.

Just as important, this was a slick, happy show that kept its audience engaged and where the cast was alert and intelligent.  It felt as though they were having a lot of fun.

This went a long way to overcome the fact that, on occasion, the cast was pretty stretched by Rossini’s savage writing.  There were two very good performances from the leads.  Wallis Giunta has a lovely, gentle mezzo and the waif-like figure that the role needs.  She’s an appealing actress.  Her tuning wasn’t always completely spot on, but she managed the bravura finale (together with dance movements) really impressively.  I think we’ll hear more of her.

Sunnyboy Dladla has a light, Florez-ish voice that suits the music well.  The top notes didn’t seem to be a problem and he sang with real taste and expressiveness and acted really intelligently.  I don’t know how far his voice would work in larger houses but here it sounded like an answer to Opera North’s bel canto tenor prayers.  Any chance of some Donizetti/Bellini revivals with him please?

Quirijn de Lang doesn’t strike me as a natural Rossini baritone.  The florid passages made you realise exactly how difficult they are.  But he’s a smashing performer.  He did the entrance number beautifully – very nervous in disguise indeed, hands, shaking with the coloratura and his confidence built up quickly.  His acting was alert and witty.

Henry Waddington made a really good Magnifico, vain, nasty and utterly self centred.  He is a great comedian and was just as monstrous as he ought to be.  He sang it with absolute confidence.  Sky Ingram and Amy J Payne had a lovely time as his daughters – very funny and nasty.

John Savournin was a splendid Alidoro.  He’s a natural stage performer – alert, able to express stuff simply by raising an eyebrow.  The director had him firmly in control of the action.  He also sang pretty well including and made as good a job of La del ciel as you could hope for.

The chorus were on good form and had lots of fun as photographers, make up artists, waiters etc.  The orchestra was less so with some rather lax playing.  Derek Cowan conducted lightly and looked after his singers well.  He caught the wit in the score.  I enjoyed the music.

The score was sensitively cut – quite a lot of recitative was missing, as was one of Magnifico’s arias.  Neither was an unbearable loss and we were out in just over two hours 30 with the show never having felt remotely too long.

I’m not saying that this clever, economical, happy show would necessarily go down well at classier addresses, but it made for a happy, honest, hugely enjoyable evening.  It’s well worth catching.  Not a bad introduction to opera for children either – they’re doing a matinee on Saturday.


A Tale of Januarie: Operatic irrelevance

2 Mar


Julian Philips’s new opera, The Tale of Januarie, which I saw at the Guildhall on 1st March is undoubtedly the first opera with a libretto allegedly in Middle English.  Before getting into the merits of the piece and the performance, I think it’s worth asking some questions about that.

Let me quote from the programme: the opera constitutes the Guildhall School’s contribution to the [Arts & Humanities Research Council funded…] programme’s translingual strand which seeks to promote Opera in a contemporary cultural context, generating dialogue and debate around the form within the school’s existing and well-established audience community.  With its Middle English libretto, the project hopes to heighten audience sensitivity to language in opera, whilst also allowing for a sharing of aesthetic practice both within the context of Guildhall composition programmes but also in its strategic partnership with the Royal Opera House…”  This is the sort of mixture of pretentious pseudo-academic speak and corporate jargon that instantly raises my hackles.  Is that really what opera has descended to these days: a vehicle for academic discussion?

Earlier on, the authors talk as if comprehending the words in opera has always been a problem.  I think that needs to be debunked.  There are some operas which were written for audiences who would not understand the language (Handel’s and some of Mozart’s spring to mind) but most composers wrote operas where the words were meant to be heard and understood.  And listening to recordings, combined with recollection and, indeed, the experience of The Winter’s Tale two days ago, suggests that it is very possible to do so.  While undoubtedly some people think that opera “sounds better” in a language they don’t understand, what are you hoping to achieve, if you think that the story is at all important, by setting the piece explicitly in a language that makes it less comprehensible?

I know that surtitles are universal but doesn’t it admit defeat from the start to write something which is intended to be witty, where the laughs depend on an audience reading the surtitles?

In any case, the experience here was strange.  The Middle English certainly wasn’t pronounced the way I was taught to pronounce it: it sounded like an uneasy mixture of 21st century vowels, with some unfamiliar words and formations.  Middle English-lite, I’d say.  What sort of contribution to the debate do you make if you write in a language and then encourage people to mispronounce it?

Oh dear, maybe I’ve just been contributing to an academic debate.  Better get on with the opera itself.

The plot is a good one about an elderly knight who marries a much younger woman and is cuckolded by his servant: good scope for comic scenes and, as happened, a rather touching ending.   Philips and his librettist Stephen Plaice add bits of local colour, choruses about the seasons and gods (Pluto and Proserpine) commenting on and providing something of a counter-point to the story.  It reminds me slightly of the part played by the chorus in Gloriana or the ballets in an opera by Rameau and it feels consciously archaic.  The episodes also go on far too long: one in particular where Proserpine’s nymphs tease Priapus (a sort of bawdy narrator figure) made me lose the will to live.  It’s not an especially long opera, but I felt that the local colour elements held things up and took time away from greater elaboration on the characters themselves.  The presentation felt about relevant and interesting as Merrie England.

And opportunities seemed to be missed.  Couldn’t you broaden out the opportunities for exploring the Damyan/May relationship?  For saying more about the Damyan/May relationship.  And there’s an episode where Damyan has problems with a key where the poor guy has nothing to sing at all and the mugging has to come entirely from the direction with no musical or verbal assistance at all.

Philips’s music adds to the archaisms by including medieval bagpipes, recorders and nods towards Machaut and other sort-of contemporary composers. Juxtaposed with an orchestra of sixty and a gently late 20th century easy idiom.  It’s all inoffensive and pleasant enough to listen to but with anything that stops you in your tracks or makes you come out with music lodged in your mind.

There are some effective moments: the love making of Januarie and May is quite amusing in a vulgar, carry-on sort of way.  The last scene with the dead Januarie is quite touching and there’s some grateful music to sing.  Philips’s music is confident and accomplished with nothing to stop you in the tracks or lodge in your mind.

It was done outstandingly.  Dominic Wheeler conducted clearly and the orchestra played superbly.  The chorus were excellent and the singing uniformly good.  Everyone has pointed out John Findon’s commanding performance as Januarie – and he’s very good indeed and makes a convincing old man.  His tenor is strong – ideal for Britten, I would say.  There is some lovely singing from Joanna Marie Skillet as May, Elizabeth Skinner as Proserpine (both displaying gorgeous creamy voices), Dominic Sedgwick (a bit wasted) as Damyan, the love interest and Martin Haessler as Pluto.  These were superbly committed performances.

Martin Lloyd Evans’s production was set firmly in a medieval never, never land while Dick Bird’s sets and costumes created a Breughel-ish picture that had been very firmly dry-cleaned.  The direction was sound enough without ever making the work feel exciting or interesting.

So it made a pleasant enough, unchallenging, unmemorable evening.  I don’t think I’ve ever though opera so irrelevant.  This is what happens when academics get hold of it.

Wigglesworth’s Winter’s Tale

28 Feb

I saw the first night of Ryan Wigglesworth’s first opera at ENO on 27th February.  Quite a lot of pressure for a composer and I wonder whether choosing The Winter’s Tale was the right option.

I really question why composers, English composers at any rate, choose to set Shakespeare’s plays as operas.  Unless you are very skilful, like Britten and, to an extent, Ades, it’s hard to make a convincing case that your opera can really co-exist as a viable alternative to the play.  It’s slightly different for foreigners – they can play about with the text and faster and looser with the scenario but, let’s face it, the only really successful operas based on Shakespeare even abroad are by Verdi.

So Ryan Wigglesworth was setting himself a significant challenge in choosing The Winter’s Tale for his first opera.  The scale of it really hit me in the final scene.  How do you set Paulina’s speech in a more memorable way than Judi Dench or Eileen Atkins can speak it?  In Wigglesworth’s case the answer was that you cut the bulk of it.  And also, unless I missed it, Leontes’s “She’s warm” at the end of it.

I don’t mind that.  I think if you’re writing an opera, you have to make it significantly different from the play and use the benefits that the operatic form can bring to telling a story.  The original text shouldn’t be sacred.  What worried me was Wigglesworth didn’t do it enough.  He’s filleted and adapted the text very well.  He sensibly cuts Autolycus and retains much of the flavour of the Bohemia act – indeed I think he improves it: a chorus helps no end at a village feast and I thought that his extended love duet for Florizel and Perdita was really lovely.  But the remainder is almost too faithful.

Let’s take an example in his third act.  Florizel and Perdita arrive, followed by his angry father and all meet in Leontes’s palace.  Doesn’t that cry out for a sextet?  Wigglesworth simply ends the scene.  Having begun the trial scene with a really interesting chorus calling for justice for Hermione (one of the most best parts of the opera), wouldn’t a really good ensemble finale help where you can actually bring in the people and allow conflicting emotions to be heard?  But no, it ends with a bit of a whimper, really.  I got irritated that Wigglesworth seems to be ignoring so much that is special about the form and limiting himself to a post Wagnerian view of opera when Britten has shown that you can do so much more with it.

There are some really good things.  The orchestral accompaniment is strong – I remember a lovely cor anglais solo when Hermione comes to the trial, and you feel a ticking of time going on.  He never drowns the singers and he creates atmosphere.  My main problem was that, for most of the first act, the vocal lines were little more than rather stilted recitative with nothing particularly grateful or interesting to listen to.

ENO did it proud.  Iain Paterson makes an ideally strong, tormented Leontes and I just wish that he had more interesting things to sing.  Sophie Bevan is a sympathetic Hermione and Susan Bickley, predictably, outstanding as Paulina.  Leigh Melrose did what he could with Polixenes and Timothy Robinson did a really beautiful job as Camillo.  Florizel has a much better chance in this opera than in the play and Anthony Gregory sang his music really beautifully.  Samantha Price was a sweet Perdita.  Not a weak link there.

Wigglesworth conducted.  The orchestra played magnificently for him and the chorus was on outstanding form.  Again, it was a committed, passionate performance of the piece.

Rory Kinnear was making his debut as an opera director.  He did a pretty good job in strong sets by Vicki Mortimer.  I wonder how much of the end – leaving Hermione, Leontes and Perdita together was his and how much Wigglesworth’s. Perhaps the continual moving of the sets was a bit fussy but overall it was a clear, strong reading of the piece.

Do I want to see it again?  If I’m honest, not really.  It doesn’t provide a viable alternative to the play, but there’s enough in here to make me want to see another opera by Wigglesworth.

Dark Don Giovanni

29 Oct

Has Don Giovanni had more new productions than any other in the UK in the last forty years?  It feels like it.  Counting Jonathan Miller’s, Richard Jones’s new production at ENO was the company’s fifth in 30 years and most of the other companies seem to reckon that one a decade isn’t quite enough.  It’s an opera that resists a “definitive” staging and I’m quite happy to see different interpretations.  Jones’s, which I saw on 24th October, is one of the best.

It’s typically questioning.  In the overture we see Giovanni in front of a series of doors.  Women come along, Leporello opens the door, the woman and Giovanni go in, then come out, then the next woman comes along.  It’s like a transaction, a conveyor belt. Anna arrives at the end. She produces a knife: she wants the sex to be violent, to be threatened by a masked man with a knife.  In the next room the Commendatore has a prostitute.   At the end, by a sleight of hand, Giovanni sends Leporello down with the Commendatore and begins his routine with women, with a new Leporello.

In between it’s more patchy.  Paul Steinberg’s set is excellent: walls of doors, revealing rooms, suggesting streets and opportunities to hide and surprise.  The look is of depressed, 20th Century Spain.  Jones’s direction of the characters is excellent.  More than anyone else he catches the tension between Masetto and Zerlina – they’re not reconciled after Batti batti and not completely after Vedrai carina.  Giovanni serenades Elvira’s maid over the phone and Anna sings Non mi dir over the phone to Ottavio  Christine Rice’s Elvira gets madder as the evening goes on, seizing a gun from Ottavio before Mi tradi.  You had a sense of lonely characters with only Giovanni and Leporello having any form of rapport.  On the down side he has no solution to the Act I finale – one of the messiest and least successful scenes I’ve seen Jones do and the sextet in Act II didn’t fare much better.

It helps that it’s sung in English – Amanda Holden’s translation has been adapted for this and is still very good.  There were no surtitles for the recits (and you didn’t need them) and you were able to follow the piece, like a play, enjoying the situations and the ideas.  After a heavy day, I was kept interested and involved throughout.

It helped to have Christopher Purves as Giovanni.  He’s one of the most charismatic singing actors on the stage today.   This Giovanni is cold, calculating, ruthless and determined.  There’s a mordant wit and cynicism.  He gets women by fascination and strength rather than charm.  But you don’t feel that he likes them very much.  There’s a relentless, driven quality about him.  His voice isn’t the most honied and he doesn’t have typical dashing good looks, but he’s one of the most believable that I’ve seen.  He got the aristocrat carelessness, absolutely certainty of what he wants and sheer bullying violence to perfection.  I’ve heard it more gratefully sung, but that wasn’t really the point.  His rapport with Clive Bayley’s sinister, red-wigged Leporello was as successful a double act as I’ve seen.

Christine Rice was an outstandingly fine Elvira – catching the sheer madness and intensity of the woman and singing outstandingly: a glorious Mi tradi and managing the difficulties of the role fearlessly.  She was matched by Caitlin Lynch’s Donna Anna, though after the interesting start, Mozart doesn’t really give Jones quite as much material as he needs to explore the character.  Ms Lynch’s singing was hugely assured.  Mary Bevan was a very good Zerlina.

Allan Clayton made a predictably fine Ottavio – concerned and ineffectual but doing his arias well.  Nicholas Crowley was a very good Masetto – nicely acted and sung and one of the best that I’ve seen.   James Creswell made a strong Commendatore.

Mark Wigglesworth conducted.  It sounded fine with generally sensible tempi and the textures interesting.  He accompanied the singers well and was clearly at one with the production.  The orchestra played very strongly indeed.

So this was an alert, highly intelligent, thoughtful, enjoyable production with really good music and among the strongest of the 19 productions of this opera that I’ve seen.

Normal service resumed

17 Sep

I’m sorry that I’ve been silent recently.  No good reason for it beyond idleness.  The opera going certainly didn’t tail off.  Anyway, autumn has begun and it’s time to get back to writing.  I thought I’d use this blog to as a catch up, before doing some separate entries on the more recent activity.

I left a quarter of the way through the Opera North Ring.  It was a fabulous achievement for Richard Farnes and his orchestra, for Kelly Coe Hogan as Brunnhilde, Mats Almgren as Fafner and Hunding, Andrew Foster-Williams as Gunther and Jo Pohlheim  as Alberich and, above all, for Opera North that managed to produce a convincing, fascinating and gloriously played cycle.  Of course there were flaws – neither Siegfried was ideal – and the semi-staging doesn’t tell the full story.  But it left me on one of those unforgettable highs that great Wagner performances do and it demonstrates Opera North’s ability to produce something uniquely special on limited resources.

The Glyndebourne season has been mixed this year.  They revived Melly Still’s rather lacklustre Vixen with lovely conducting from Jakob Hrusa and a splendid Forester from Christopher Purves.  Beatrice et Benedict had all its colour washed out of it by an extraordinary decision by Laurent Pelly to set it in some sort of grey post-war austerity era in boxes.  But there was a glorious performance of Beatrice by Stephanie d’Oustrac and her second Act aria was unforgettably staged as servants slowly moved all the chairs surrounding her, leaving her alone.  It’s a very patchy opera.

Altogether better was the Nozze di Figaro revival which was probably the best of the incarnations of Michael Grandage’s amiable production.  Jonathan Cohen conducted a fizzing, alert, witty and exciting performance from the orchestra and there were lovely performances from Rosa Feola as Susanna, Golda Schultz as the Countess and Gyula Orendt as the Count.  Finally there was a lovely revival of the classic Peter Hall production of Midsummer Night’s Dream with Tim Mead and Kathleen Kim outstanding as Oberon, Elizabeth DeShong luxury casting as Hermia and Matthew Rose very funny as Bottom.  There wasn’t a week link in the cast and the 35 year old production came up as fresh as if it were brand new.

Finally, I ought to give a plug for a performance by Opera della Luna at Wilton’s Music Hall of two Offenbach one-acters: Croquefer and The Island of Tulipatan.  Both are daft, both diverting, both have some gorgeous and witty music and Tulipatan, in particular, is a small masterpiece with at least three numbers that nag away at you for days afterwards.  They were given cheerfully cheap, witty performances that probably weren’t a million miles away from the spirit of the originals.  There was a nice translation, daffy choreography and a particular engaging couple of performance by the tenor Anthony Flaum who, in Tulipatan made everything out of being a very masculine boy brought up as a girl.  It was one of those evening where the life, the enjoyment of the material conveyed itself to the audience and a really lovely time was had by all.

More to come.


Substantially better than Nothing!

28 Feb

“What are you seeing tonight?” my partner asked.

“Nothing.” I replied.  I imagine the joke has been made quite a good deal about Glyndebourne’s new community opera, Nothing, by David Bruce and Glyn Maxwell, which I saw at its last performance on 27th February.

The opera’s based on a novel by Janne Teller.  It’s a disturbing, compelling, Lord of the Flies – like tale.  Pierre, a schoolboy, decides that nothing is worth doing.  He sits in a plum tree and his class mates try to show him that things do matter.  It begins with them giving up things that matter to them and ends up with them being forced to get more extreme – it ends horribly.

I haven’t read the book, but the opera charts a pretty gripping story moving from innocence to pretty bitter experience.  It’s about group dynamics, about manipulation and what matters.  Glyn Maxwell’s libretto is taut and sings clearly.  David Bruce has problems setting school slang, but otherwise makes the words sound natural: they sound good.  His soundworld – a conventional orchestra, with harpsichord – is not difficult.  A bit of minimalism, a bit of Britten and Sondheim and some 18th century techniques.  He makes the duets for Pierre and Agnes (the girl who tries to help him) compelling.  His writing for chorus is terrifying.  I felt I’d like to hear it again and, certainly, hear more of his work.

There are five beefy vocal parts which were cast with young professionals.  Four smaller parts for promising teenagers and a large chorus of local school children – at a guess from six forms.  The Southbank Sinfonia is augmented by local young musicians.  It’s been splendidly prepared.

As Pierre, Stuart Jackson confirmed what a promising singer he is.  He sang clearly, menacingly, manipulatively.  He sounds as though he’ll be an outstanding Britten interpreter.  He caught the sense of mental illness, unhappiness and manipulativeness about the role.  As Johan, James Hall, a counter tenor, sounded strong and confident and conveyed the blind thoughtlessness of the young man who thinks he’s a leader.  Trantan Hambleton was suitably sour Karl.  Both women – Marta Fontanale Simmons and Robyn Allegra Parton were committed and moving and sang beautifully.  All fitted in very well as convincing teenagers.

The large chorus, onstage for most of the time was committed, well=prepared and sang clearly, strongly and well.  This didn’t strike me as easy music.  Sian Edwards conducted – good to see her again – with her customary energy and precision.

Bijan Sheibani directed in a simple, revolving set by Giles Cadle.  It looked good.  The cast moved as a single unit, working together with outstanding energy.

This was a lot more than a worthy experiment a community opera.  This was a powerful evening that held a full house engrossed.  This wasn’t your usual Glyndebourne audience: I suspect there were a number of first timers there.  I think that, if it had been mind, I’d have become hooked on opera: it told a compelling story, with a directness and vigour that carried you along.  It’s an outstanding evening.

The shame is that this was only on for four performances and that it’s not the sort of piece that is readily transferable.  I’d go again.


ENO’s first Norma

18 Feb

Given Norma‘s reputation for being a “difficult” opera, perhaps it’s not surprising that ENO seems to have waited so long to produce it. The performance that I saw on 17th February was the company’s first and, also, if I’m not mistaken, it’s first staged Bellini (they did the Capuleti in concert while the Coliseum was being refurbished).

In other ways, it’s quite surprising. If you look back at the people ENO have had on their books over the last 30 years – Hunter, Plowright, Eaglen to name the most obvious – they could have cast the title role from among their own regulars perfectly credibly. It’s a measure of how the company has changed that it needs to important two American singers to sing the leading female roles. Let me hasten to add that both were very good indeed, but is this really what our National company ought to be about? Increasingly, it’s looking like a very able talent-spotting venue for very promising young singers that haven’t yet got to the stage where they’ll be singing at the ROH.

Norma is one of my favourite operas. I respond immediately to Bellini’s intensely dramatic approach to dealing with conflict and his way of developing drama through a few, rather long, musical numbers. I love his ability to find a musical language to express the different emotions and the conflict.  The greatness of Norma is in Bellini’s ability, like Rossini’s, to let the musical numbers take the strain – the situations and the emotions change during the duets which become dialogues as intense as anything that Wagner wrote.   I love the simple intensity of the melodies and the certainty of the effects.  It’s a long piece and there are bits where I could feel the audience getting a bit restive but there’s not a note of it that I would cut.  I’m not sure that anyone wrote a more beautiful finale and moving finale to an opera until the Liebestod or, possibly, Walkure.

It was good to hear it in English.  My seat had no view of the surtitles but I found I understood more of the plot than I have in the past (even with surtitles) and the audeince felt gripped at the big dramatic moments, as when Norma announces that she is the traitress and the silence was palpable. George Hall’s new translation struck me as sensible and intelligible. Diction from the singers was variable: I think I probably heard about 65% of the words, but all of the really important ones.

It’s one of those operas that can only hope to succeed if the musical side works. This means an understanding conductor and a cast that can cope with the demands. ENO had them here. Stephen Lord’s conducting of the first act struck me as masterly. I loved his sense of rubato, his care in shaping the melodies, the dramatic point that he gave them. Like Muti when he conducted Capuleti in 1984, he left you in no doubt that you were hearing a masterpiece. I had a few more reservatons in Act II – there were times when he was just a bit slow, where the performance was coming perilously close to stopping? I’ve heard the last number have greater sweep. The orchestra played pretty marvellously for him; the chorus sang decently.

As Norma, we had Marjorie Owens. She’s got a big voice with a huge range and variety of colours. She reminded you why mezzos occasionally claim Norma for themselves. It’s a big voice, capable of managing the fury and passion, but can the soft, intense singing.  She’s not Callas and I felt that she was stretched in some of the faster sections – particularly the cabaletta to Casta Diva. But this was a seriously, very credible, beautifully sung performance that attained real stature at the end.

She was matched by Jennifer Holloway’s Adalgisa.  Holloway’s voice is recognisably a mezzo but lighter that Owens’s and the two voices had just the right sort of contrast.  She sings this musically really well and the duets with Owens were moments of drama but also gave the sort of sensual pleasure that I remember from Baltsa and Gruberova singing in the Capuleti or Sabbatini doing Credease misera in the last ROH Puritani – that wonderful Bellini technique or making you feel that you are listening to the most purely beautiful thing ever written.

Peter Auty made a fine Pollione.  He’s sounding more and more like Arthur Davies did in his prime – that very English, rather white tone.  It worked well here and I thoroughly enjoyed his very reliable, idiomatic singing and excellent diction.  James Creswell was predictably fine as Pollione.  Very strong performances from Valerie Reid as Clotilde and Adrian Dwyer as Flavio.

I saw Christopher Alden’s production for Opera North when they did it in Newcastle.  I didn’t feel that it transferred well to a larger theatre.  I think he suggested the idea of an oppressive power well – Pollione and Flavio as Victorian capitalists exploiting an agricultural community.  The suppressed violence, predictably, comes across well.  I was much less sure about the long tree trunk as the main religious symbol – it looked clumsy and difficult for people to get on and off.  And there was a vast amount of rolling around that didn’t help much, people placed too far back.  It felt a bit lost in the Coliseum.  And there were moments which raised laughter: the sudden clinch for Norma and Pollione before In mio man is the last place where you want a laugh.  Ditto when Norma hurls an axe into the wall rather than murdering her children – she wakes them up and they dash over to the other side of the stage and you feel the audience having every sympathy with them.  I don’t think that there are many laughs in Norma or that you need to create them.  Still, I suppose this is a one-off series of performances and it provides a showcase for Ms Owens.

So musically, I had a lovely time and I’d recommend anyone who loves this music to go along and enjoy some superb playing and singing.  And Alden’s production is just a bit silly, not actively offensive.  Given that this was the first staging of the opera in London since 1987, it was a welcome evening.