Tag Archives: Glyndebourne

Hamlet collage

11 Jun

There is one unforgettable moment in Brett Dean’s new opera Hamlet, which I saw on its first night at Glyndebourne on 11 June.  This is when Sarah Connolly, as Gertrude, comes to tell Laertes of Ophelia’s death.  She sings a version of “There grows a willow…” with her usual glorious heartfelt emotion and simplicity and, as she does so, you hear Barbara Hannigan singing flashes of her mad scene from the dome.  It’s a gorgeous, moving moment which reminds why opera, as a form, gives you things that the straight theatre can’t.

Otherwise, this struck me as a very clever opera that didn’t quite explain why it needed to be written.  Matthew Jocelyn has taken the text and played about with it and those of who know the play well have a lot of fun working out what bits come from where – so “do not saw your hand in the air” is used for the duelling at the end.  It’s rare, if at all, that you get a single speech set entirely as it was.  I don’t object to that, but it is distracting to have bits of the play that you know coming up in unexpected places.  And there are lots of jokes about the different variant readings which are funny, if you get them.

What worries me more is that there isn’t really an over-arching idea to this opera.  There are a succession of more or less successful scenes and an exhausting role for the protagonist but that feels like it.  They’ve sensibly got rid of Fortinbras and the bulk of the political side of the play, but what I missed was the need for revenge or any sense of Hamlet’s vacillation or the irony associated with that.  If Hamlet isn’t a political play, it’s a revenge tragedy with some really good meditation about life and death.  Here the existential side seemed to take centre stage without the revenge plot.

It was also long and needed cutting- the performance lasted half an hour longer than Glyndebourne thought it would.  I first became aware of this in the scene where Polonius suggests that they put Ophelia in Hamlet’s way.  Aside from the tedium of Polonius (who the music makes a lot less funny than the play) there’s a sextet with comic backing for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  They turn up in the Osric role later on (the whole bit about Hamlet being sent to England is cut) and have a silly duet about the odds.  And the play scene takes forever.  I wasn’t convinced about the need for a gravedigger.  Surely you can cut Yorick?

Dean’s music strikes me as professional.  There’s some smashing word-setting and quite a lot of others where you feel that it all feels a bit leaden.  The orchestration has a semi-chorus, antiphonal percussion and brass up on either side of the Upper Circle.  There are some nice moments, some great climaxes and quite a lot where it sounds as though it’s just grumbling in the background.  It didn’t dislike and there are moments, particularly in the second half where the things sort-of takes off.

Overall, however, this brings me back to the problems of setting the texts of Shakespeare in English.  If you don’t use the original, everyone says that the libretto isn’t as good.  If you do, then there are the problems of setting great lines that actors will generally do better.  It helps if you can condense it in a foreign language and let your version speak for itself.  This seems to me to join the group of honourable failures.  And it’s too long.

It’s pretty brilliantly done.  Neil Armfield’s production moves fluidly and, technically, is a very adept piece of work. Vladimir Jurowski conducts the LPO and the Glyndebourne chorus with huge assurance.  There wasn’t a hint of uncertainty about the performance and you felt that everyone was engaging with and utterly committed to the piece.

Allan Clayton gives a hugely energetic performance as Hamlet and sings the lines clearly, beautifully, intelligently.  What I missed, and I think this is the opera’s fault, not his, was any hint as to why we should care about him at all.  Sarah Connolly was her typically fabulous self as Gertrude.  Barbara Hannigan has a stratospheric (and very successful) mad scene for Ophelia and she pulls it off as a marvellous set-piece.  Rod Gilfry as Claudius sang clearly even if you didn’t quite get what the character was all about.  Kim Begley was a clear Polonius, but I wonder if he didn’t have too much to do.  John Tomlinson had three lovely roles as the Ghost, the First Player and the Gravedigger and was his usual, booming, hugely intelligent, charismatic self.  David Butt Philip (who will be singing Hamlet on the Tour) was excellent as Laertes.  Rupert Enticknap and Christopher Lowrey had a fine double act as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  Maybe it’s time to give the joke that it’s impossible to tell which is which a rest.

As ever at Glyndebourne you can’t fault the sheer commitment and professionalism of the performance.  It’s given this piece the best possible send-off.  I’m simply not convinced that I really want to see it again.  Sorry.

 

Glyndebourne’s engaging Traviata

4 Jun

“Did you think that ending was outrageous?” asked an excited American lady as I queued for coffee at the end of the performance of La traviata at Glyndebourne on 31 May.  I thought that she was referring to the moderately controversial ending of Tom Cairns’s production, where Violetta dies alone.  But no, it was to the end of the opera itself: that the woman, who was about the only one in the opera not at fault, should be the one who dies and ends up apologising for it.  She was right, of course, and it’s the reaction Verdi would have wanted. And I thought that it was great that a newcomer could react to an opera so freshly and intelligently, reminding me how easy it is to take this piece for granted.

I think it was also a tribute to Tom Cairns’s production that, while not being outstanding is, in fact, a very good, clear, thoughtful version of the opera.  It often happens that the second showing of a production here improves upon the first and this felt more settled and secure than in 2014.  If there are problems, I think it they are to do with Hildegard Bechtler’s set which feels strangely cluttered and ugly and with the modern setting: our social mores are very different today and there are occasions, particularly in the Germont/Violetta duet where this becomes naggingly worrying.

There was, pretty much, a new cast and a very, very strong one.  It’s perhaps worth noting the lesser roles that are so important in Traviata and which were cast from strength.  William Dazeley, for example, made the best Douphol that I’ve seen simply through his experience and authority (and he sang it very well, too): his acting and presence were crucial in creating the wider milieu and context.  Ditto Henry Waddington as Grenvil, creating the sympathetic outsider who is also part of the revelry (I loved him hastily hiding the evidence of a night on the tiles in Act III) and singing it really well.  The casting throughout, right to James Newby’s single line as the messenger at the end of the first scene of Act II – clearly, authoritatively delivered but presenting a character as well.  These included a vital, flirtatious Flora from Rihab Chaieb, an elegant Marchese from Daniel Shelvey and a passionately concerned Annina from Eliza Safian.  These, and the excellent chorus, clearly having a high old time with some really detailed characterisation and acting, reminded you that Glyndebourne really has the time to prepare things from scratch.

Kristina Mkhitaryan was the new Violetta.  She is rather special. She looks beautiful and elegant and she acts the part beautifully – you felt that she was the only one of the cast who really understood the implications of what was going on and she created a highly sympathetic, intelligent character.  Vocally, she sounded more comfortable in the conversations than in the show pieces: Ah fors’e lui better than Sempre libera.  I’ve heard individuals (Cotrubas, Miriciou) make more of some of the passages and present a more sparkling, emotional figure, but she was a very satisfying, vulnerable, striking Violetta and I’d like to hear her again.

Zach Borichevsky sang Alfredo on the tour in 2014.  He’s strikingly tall and provides just the right gauche, young, thoughtless, impulsive character.  I don’t think that I’ve seen a more convincingly acted Alfredo.  Vocally, he was stretched by the end of his cabaletta but, that apart, sounded good and sang as if he meant it.

Igor Golotavenko was the Germont.  It was a joy to hear this baritone again after the joys of Poliuto.  Off hand, I can’t think of another voice that sounds more “right” for this sort of role.  The sound is burnished, bronzed and seems to flow effortlessly.  His phrasing is thoughtful and, I don’t think I can recall anyone who has given me quite so much sheer pleasure from his singing in this role or the sheer glory of the sound.  I was less taken by his acting which didn’t really seem to have got into the role.  He did some nice things – suggesting the sexual attraction he also feels for Violetta and in trying to manage the relationship with his son but he made me realise what a very difficult role this is to put across convincingly these days.

Richard Farnes conducted, pacing the score very well indeed and accompanying the singers very thoughtfully.  Perhaps he focussed a little too much on the details but I enjoyed the way he brought ou, first the oboe and then the cellos in Dite alla giovene.  The LPO played very nicely – the clarinet as Violetta writes to Alfredo marvellously phrased.

This may not go down as one of Glyndebourne’s great, unforgettable occasions, but it was typical of what the place does well: a fresh, beautifully prepared evening with keen singers and musicians, giving a very, very good take on the opera.  And, if it brought out that reaction in a newcomer, that suggests that it got very close to complete success.

Heavy Hipermestra

21 May

It’s quite difficult to judge an audience’s reaction to an opera sometimes.  I could have sworn that a substantial part of the audience for the first night of Glyndebourne’s new production of Cavalli’s Hipermestra on 20 May were deeply bored and, like the man sitting next to me, falling asleep and desperately waiting for the thing to end.  At the interval, people was using words like “interesting” and “different” suggesting at least an ambivalence about it.  Yet at the end, the applause seemed warm and enthusiastic.  Make no mistake though, this is not a show for the faint hearted or for operatic novices.

From what I can gather, this seems to have been about the third performance of the piece ever and the first since 1680.  Unlike many of Cavalli’s operas it was commissioned and first performed at an aristocratic wedding with lavish sets and dances and lasted over five hours.  I don’t know whether this was with or without intervals.   William Christie had cut out a lot of paraphernalia (include the gods and goddesses at the opening and had got it down to slightly less than three hours of music.

It has rather a good plot.  King Danao has 50 daughters.  His brother, Egitto, has 50 sons.  To cement peace between them, the 50 daughters are married to the sons.  Danao, then gets his daughters to kill all their husbands because of a prophecy from an oracle.  Only Hipermestra, who is really in love with her husband, Leonice, refuses and lets him escape.  Leonice returns with an army for revenge and, as part of the diplomacy is told that Hipermestra is unfaithful.  He still ravages the kingdom.  Hipermestra throws herself off a building but is saved by one of Juno’s peacocks and the confusion is resolved with a happy-ish ending.  There’s a sub-plot for Arbante (in love with Hipermestra) and Elisa (in love with him) and there is the usual share of cynical servants and, of course, a tenor in drag as the nurse.

I also thought that Cavalli’s setting of it was masterful.  It feels Shakespearean in its length and pacing and the scope of its discussion of dilemmas, personal and political and about the effects of war.  There are some beautiful scenes for lovers and ones of considerable passion and emotion and, of course, quite a lot of bawdy comedy.  It struck me as a really good opera.

So what might an audience find difficult?  I think the first arises from the nature of Cavalli’s operas.  There is a lot of recitative and it tends to move seamlessly into arias which are not really what most audiences think of as arias.  There are no big tunes or really memorable parts, little opportunity for bravura singing and they are short.

This means that there is a huge premium on the words and following the plot. Since composers at this time saw themselves as servants of the words, this is understandable, but this causes a real problem for audiences whose comprehension of Italian is limited.  The most enjoyable Cavallis that I have seen (and the ones which made me realise what a great composer he is) are those that have been sung in English – Giasone at Buxton in the 1980s and the ROH’s recent L’Ormindo at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.  You need to have direct understanding of the words and, even with surtitles, there was a barrier between performers and  audience.  In many operas you get round this because the music itself is inherently wonderful to listen to.  That doesn’t apply so much to Cavalli.

The next problem is that the first part lasted two hours and five minutes.  That is an awfully long time for an audience to be sitting trying to engage with dialogues that it doesn’t really understand.  An interval would have worked wonders. You really have to be dedicated to last that out.

Finally, many people will probably feel uncomfortable with Graham Vick’s staging.  It’s updated to a contemporary middle east where beheadings, stonings, ill-treatment of women and the destruction of cities are common-place.  There were a lot things that an audience at Glyndebourne wanting to escape might not have liked to be reminded of.  No expense has been spared on the sets, but it’s not a comfortable evening.

For myself, I enjoyed the production, mostly, while wondering whether, in fact, the work bears the full weight that Vick is imposing.  The dialogues, the interaction between the characters are beautifully observed.  Stuart Nunn’s sets are very handsome indeed and chart the move from wealth and lavishness to war and destruction brilliantly.  Even the orchestra, costumed as a rich, paid arab band for the first half, become refugees in the second (there’s a glorious solo violin passage at the beginning of that half).

There are some doubts.  The show begins as you arrive with a number of the brides and grooms wandering round the garden being photographed and there is a spoof news item on the video screens setting the scene and placing it in Glyndebourne.  One of those examples of Glyndebourne taking itself too seriously which is one of the tiresome things about the place.  I wasn’t sure also that he’d got the balance of comedy and seriousness right.  Mark Wilde’s glamorous, hugely enjoyable performance as Berenice, the nurse, might have been even better if he’d been singing in English rather than mugging furiously.  The coup de theatre of Juno’s peacock happened and was astonishing, but was also funny and left the audience giggling.  I’m not sure how you avoid that or if you need to.

No doubts at all about the musical performance, at least to a non-specialist.  William Christie and the very small orchestra achieved wonders – he barely conducted and they followed the singers and worked with them to provide a complete performance – that would have been that much more effective if you actually understood the words.

There wasn’t a weak link in the cast.  Emoke Barath, from Hungary, was strong, beautiful and dignified in the title role.  She has an ideal voice for this (I’d love to hear her in Handel) and she made an immensely characterful, sympathetic performer.  She was matched by Raffaele Pe as Linceo – a very fine Italian counter-tenor who caught the eroticism and swagger of the role.  Ana Quintans was delightful as Elisa and Benjamin Hulett did the best piece of work that I’ve seen from him as Arbante – an outstandingly good performance by a very confident, compelling tenor.

Renato Dolcini was splendid as Danao and there was really good work from Antony Gregory and Alessandro Fisher as assorted servants.  This was a cast that was entirely committed and confident.

So this was a really high quality piece of work in every respect.  Just what you’d expect from Glyndebourne.  Anyone interested in Cavalli or the baroque should go.  Whether it will really appeal to a wider audience is another question.  It did feel like hard work.

Glyndebourne’s new Barber

29 May

Glyndebourne’s re-exploration of its core repertory has finally arrived at Il barbiere di Siviglia and high time too.  Rossini’s operas work in this theatre and the ensemble approach is really important in these works.  I saw the performance on 28th May.

Musically, it was a joy from start to finish.  So let’s start with Enrique Mazzola’s conducting.  What I loved was the way in which he made the score come alive: the instruments chatted and responded to each other, they sounded earthy, rasping ‘cellos, cackling bassoons, clear, well strongly articulated strings.  Crescendos grew without the effort that you sometimes get from conductors determined to show you how they should go.  Speeds were fleet, the comedy fizzed.  It was one of those readings where everything sounded “right” even where Mazzola was taking unusual decisions – a very swift Fredda ed imobile, hushed and urgent, for example.  You felt this was an alive, individual response, informed by a real knowledge of the style.  The LPO seemed to be entirely with him and I found myself smiling through most of the evening at the sheer joy of this music.

It helped that there was a really well-balanced cast that, honestly, struck me as being at the same, if not a better level than Gui’s famous 1950s ensemble, with an interpretation that was a bit freer.  In the title role, Björn Bürger struck me as a real find.  An attractive baritone that I’d love to hear in Mozart, Britten or Debussy and the handsome easy presence that you need for the role.  He brought the house down with the sheer ease and aplomb of his opening number.  Taylor Stayton has a light-ish voice and I’d ideally like a bit more colour, but he sings effortlessly and acts with a real spirit and wit.

Christoph Stamboglis has a cavernous bass and a deadpan presence that works marvellously for Basilio – he and Mazzola made La calunnia the tour de force it needs to be.  Alessandro Corbelli was, of course, an ideal Bartolo, stylish, grumpy, dangerous, the voice showing little wear and tear but he still gives a master-class in how to do Italian comedy.  Janis Kelly had a great time as Berta and was allowed a really good dance routine for her aria.

Minor reservations about Danielle de Niese as Rosina.  She’s a soprano in a mezzo role and I wasn’t sure how comfortable she sounded.  She overcame this with her sheer personality and her alert diction and ability to manage the words.  She was given an aria before the storm which was new to me: pleasant enough but not really justifying holding up the action.  What was it?

Annabel Arden’s production has come in for some stick.  The setting – a large space with a semi-circular cyclorama in blues and whites – suggests no concrete location but looks good.  Within that, furniture, balconies, harpsichords (quite a lot of them) are brought on and off and staircases move.  Costumes are vaguely 20th century and a mix of styles, with Basilio identifiably a priest.  It’s a deliberate decision and one which allows the characters freedom to interact – characterisation is clear, they talk to us and to the conductor.  It’s clearly a performance and, given the artificiality of the opera, I don’t object to that.

I enjoyed it and laughed a lot at the intelligent acting and the way in which the characters worked with each other.  What I missed was the element of mayhem in an orderly world that, I think, is part of the piece, particularly the Act I finale. On the other hand, there was an engaging randomness about the entrances and exits that kept you guessing.  I thought it was a deceptively skillful  production.  I’d see it again.

Whether it would work so well with a less skilled cast and a different production is open to the debate, but doesn’t matter.  This was an enormously well-prepared, intelligent, witty production, reminding me of what a strong piece it is and keeping me smiling and chuckling throughout.

Glyndebourne’s revived Meistersinger

22 May

It’s five years since Glyndebourne first tried Meistersinger.  It was their most challenging show ever and one of their hottest tickets.  Interestingly, this revival, possibly because the first outing wasn’t a unanimous success, possibly because of the ticket prices and possibly because there are a lot of Meistersingers around at the moment, isn’t a sell out and, even on the first night on 21st May, there were a few empty seats.

This was a shame: it’s an interesting, worthwhile production with some very good performances indeed.  Overall, it improved on its first outing but I still had the nagging doubt as to whether this really is the right piece for Glyndebourne.  It feels as though it’s stretching the place beyond its limits and I missed the sheer exuberance and sense of space that you get in larger theatres.

The performance was centred round Gerald Finley’s outstanding Sachs.  The role stretches him to his limits and there were a couple of points in the last act where I wondered if he would last the course.  He did but you were aware that it was hard work. That aside, he made a fascinatingly complex Sachs: angry, thoughtful, someone who cared deeply and who might very well have married Eva.  It was a passionate, detailed reading, sung with his usual care for the words and in a way which managed the vocal demands pretty convincingly and completely identified with the character.  Surely this is the greatest performance of his career so far.

David McVicar’s amiable production is full of clear, detailed acting and an engagement with the text. He gets the social nuances really well- Beckmesser obviously sees himself as Sach’s superior.  The relationships are beautifully delineated, but it felt like a chamber production, constricted by the size of the space: a solution to  problem rather than something uniquely special: the riot seemed leaden, the festival cramped. Vicki Mortimer’s set looks good but the pillars that are used in every scene end up constricting.  Within these doubts, there’s lots to enjoy and the show looks as fresh as ever.

That may well be because, apart from Finley, Alastair Miles’s strong, paternal Pogner, the main roles were newly cast.  Jochen Kupfer made a younger than usual Beckmesser – very tall, very thin and with a high opinion of himself.  He was, if memory serves, more comic than his predecessor, deeply suspicious and wary of Sachs.  He struck me as having an excellent voice and it would be good to see him back.

Amanda Majewski was Eva, looking beautiful and singing lots of it very with clarity and beauty.  I found her personality a bit cold, almost manipulative (perhaps Eva’s like that).  Hannah Hipp was a very strong, warm Magdalene and David Portillo a really excellent David.  The latter strikes me as a major find – a strong, clear tenor and he conveued the character really strongly.

Casting Walther is always a problem and I don’t think Michael Schade was a perfect solution.  He sounded very stretched by the role, the sound wasn’t that pleasant and, as so often, you were puzzled by Eva’s infatuation with him.

As you would expect, the other roles were excellently done and the chorus sang outstandingly: the Wach Auf section being hugely satisfying.

Michael Güttler was a pretty late replacement for Robin Ticciati.  I enjoyed his clear, measured conducting.  You heard the details in the score and he had the LPO playing beautifully for him.  It was assured, confident conducting.  Maybe  it was a bit too measured: there were points when I was aware of how long this piece is and how wordy.  A bit more pace might have helped.

So it’s a very good evening and, if you have the money to throw about, it’s worth seeing for the insights it gives and, particularly for Finley, who lifts it above the ordinary.  It’s an intimate performance and is strong but, ultimately, it doesn’t convince you that Glyndebourne can do this repertory better than anyone else.

 

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.

 

Experimental Macbeth

10 Sep

Glyndebourne’s most recent Composer in Residence, Luke Styles, has produced a further opera for them. It’s a version of Macbeth cut down to 75 minutes with the text adapted by Ted Huffman, who also directed. It was given a few performances at the end of the season before performances of Saul free to people attending that opera. They brought it to the Linbury for a single London performance on 9th September. I caught it.

It’s a difficult task to reduce even the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays to 75 minutes. And just to make things a little more challenging, they decided to set Shakespeare’s words (albeit moved around) rather than trying to create their own text. This is a very brave decision. The only composer I can think of who has successfully set Shakespeare’s dialogue is Britten in his Midsummer Night’s Dream and it’s worth remembering that that was through very carefully selected text by Pears, who would have a feel for the vocal possibilities.

Huffman and Styles decided that they would eschew the supernatural altogether – no witches, no Banquo’s ghost, no Birnam Wood marching to Dunsinane. Lady Macbeth loses her sleep-walking scene and, apparently, doesn’t die. So far as I could tell, Macbeth wins – he certainly seemed to deliver Macduff’s final words. I don’t necessarily object to this. All stories involve choices as to what happens next and, at a time when tyranny appears to be increasingly victorious and atrocities happen at a pace that my generation at least, thought was of the past, a victorious Macbeth is not unthinkable. But doesn’t this also give you a bit more licence with the story itself and with the text?

The aim of the Glyndebourne scheme is, presumably, to encourage experiment rather than to create a masterpiece and I’d like to treat this in that spirit. In his programme note, Styles suggests that he and Huffman, may try to expand it to a full evening. If they do, then perhaps a few friendly suggestions may assist.

1. Do you really need to use Shakespeare’s words so slavishly, particularly when they are being projected behind the singers? First, syntax is dense and often difficult to follow.  Secondly, the vocabulary can be obscure. I doubt, for example, that many people in the audience know what a limbeck is (I need to look it up) or that a gin is a trap – this distracts attention. More seriously, these words weren’t written for singing: they are there for actors to take up and play with. When Shakespeare did write words to be set to music, the technique is very different – the lines are shorter, the expression less complex. By setting this text you impose a straitjacket on the text and the way it is expressed. I couldn’t find a single memorable phrase or musical expression which amplified or improved on the text. I think they need to find a different way of telling the story.

2. Do you really need an all-male cast? I know Shakespeare did, but that was the convention of the time and I suspect that at least some of the voices were trebles. I don’t object, per se, to a tenor Lady Macbeth – Britten’s Madwoman is a marvellous example of how intense female passion can be conveyed by this voice – but I’m not sure that Styles yet has the skill or the assurance to make the most of the opportunities that this creates. The relatively limited vocal palette gets a bit monotonous.

3. Verdi had the right idea when he cut out all the Rosses, Lennoxes etc. It’s a very fine production in the theatre that enables you to work out which is which and, honestly, it doesn’t matter. Either cut them or give them more to do. And costume them so that they look different.

4. Bits of the text seemed unnecessary. To take an easy example, you don’t need Macbeth to go through the business of asking whether the murderers are outside and then calling them in. The early scenes struck me as being full of exegesis that wasn’t always necessary – do we need to know all about Norway and the evil MacDonald? It took up too many of the 75 minutes.

5. It is seriously worth thinking about the opportunities that the operatic form gives in terms of opportunities for extended arias, duets and ensembles to provide characterisation, to create tension, to move the plot along and also give a bit of variation. Here we simply had the characters singing the dialogue one after the other and at what felt like a uniform pace, with little variation and little to suggest the different emotions or the dynamics of a conversation. It felt dutiful, earth-bound, boring.

The part I found most enjoyable was Styles’s marvellously assured orchestration. He found colours which suggested emotions and created tension and atmosphere. The woodwinds surrounding Lady Macbeth created a sense of love, there was a lovely, almost salon-ish introduction to the banquet scene and his use of percussion is fabulously good. I got lots of pleasure listening to that. This is very special. Some of the best moments were those where the singers shut up and allowed the music to speak: I remember a passage before the murder where Macbeth is left standing on the stage, thinking – the music told you quite a lot about what was going on in his mind. If only there had been more interesting vocal lines.

It was well enough done. Huffman directed clearly and intelligently, save for the fact that it was impossible to tell who most of the minor characters were and I was frankly confused by the end, because I know what happens in the original. Jeremy Bines conducted a group of the LPO well and, as I’ve suggested, got the colours and textures outstandingly well. Ed Ballard made a strong impression as Macbeth even if you wished for more opportunities for him to delve into the character. Aidan Coburn was an impressive Lady Macbeth even though the role disappears after the banquet scene – but there was absolutely no sense of sexual chemistry between the two – a decision, or embarrassment at having two blokes playing man and wife? There’s a very good Britten tenor voice there.

Alessandro Fisher made a clear Banquo and Andrew Davies did a very good double act as the Porter and Lady Macduff – some lovely acting there. As I’ve suggested, I didn’t find it easy to work out who the others were.

So it’s an experiment. I think it needs a lot of work if this is really to succeed for an audience and I’d be tempted to start again from scratch with a new text. It felt a lot longer than its 75 minutes. I wonder if Styles is really an operatic composer – it was the skill with orchestral sounds that I’ll take away from this evening and which make me want to hear more of his work.