Tag Archives: ROH

Kaufmann’s Otello

7 Jul

Possibly, after 30 years, it was time for a new Otello at Covent Garden.  It was an interesting feeling to realise that it was more than 30 years since I saw the old Moshinsky production during its first run (Kleiber, Domingo, Ricciarelli and one of my abiding “great evenings”).  Anyway, Jonas Kaufmann taking up the role was a good enough reason for a new production and I saw it on 6 July.

Usually with Otello, I find myself blown away by the first couple of acts and then find the last couple pall slightly.  Here, it was other way round and the whole performance built up to, I thought, a really shattering conclusion.

So during the first act, I found myself deeply unconvinced by Antonio Pappano’s conducting.  The storm felt slow, almost becalmed – though I noticed the point that, actually, the chorus here are watching, preparing and that I was concentrating on what they were saying.  It wasn’t particularly helped by Keith Warner’s very static direction of the chorus.  This is a scene which, it seems to me, cries out for the bustle and energy that it got from Moshinsky in the old production, not to mention Peter Stein’s unforgettable WNO production.  I sort-of got what they were getting at, but I missed the sheer energy that I think Verdi needs here and which it got from Kleiber, Elder, Armstrong…  Kaufmann delivered his Esultate very strongly and I got a bit excitement, only to have it dashed again by the lumpen direction of the following scene and the fight: clear, yes, exciting, no.  Marco Vratogna’s Iago struck me as intelligent and active but not in particularly strong voice.

Then came the love duet, tender, intelligently sung and conducted with Kaufmann tender and powerful and Maria Agresta very promising indeed as Desdemona.

In Act II, I thought that Pappano was at his best in the quiet passages, the dialogues though, again, not getting the nuances that Kleiber did – he made that whole act sound like a piece of chamber music. Kaufmann seemed well able to cope with the vocal challenges but I didn’t have a sense of who this man was.  I missed the elemental power that Domingo brought – just as an example, the cry “Desdemona rea” was not the angry cry of a wounded man that it often is, but much softer, almost unbelieving – except that you almost missed it.  And shouldn’t he and Vratogna have been looking at each other during their duet?  The set was busy, at times swaying to match the drunken dancing, at others just bringing on particular pictures that, I have to admit, were rather beautiful.

At the end of Act II, therefore, I thought this was turning into a very good, decent Otello but not really catching light.

In Act III, it started to get interesting.  The Otello/Desdemona scene was intensely painful even if you did feel that they wandered about a bit: the end with Desdemona silhouetted at the back and Otello at the front made a superb picture.  Kaufmann did a wonderfully intelligent Dio mi potevi – making you feel the thought processes, though I wasn’t as moved as I have been.  Then Pappano managed the best paced Act III finale I’ve heard since Kleiber – another technically very well directed scene where you were alive to what was going on and the music built up intelligently and very satisfyingly.

Then, in Act IV, Agresta came into her own with the most intensely beautiful and moving performances of that scene that I’ve ever heard.  I often find this something of a bore.  Here I followed the thoughts, loved the gorgeousness of her voice and, most of all, the sense of innocence and awareness of death that she brought to it.  Kaufmann took command in the final scene and I found myself deeply moved by his singing.  Pappano’s conducting became all of a piece and, at the end, there was a couple of seconds hush as we absorbed what had happened.

So, overall, this was very good indeed.  I’m not convinced on this showing that Kaufmann has all that it takes to be a great Otello.  Vocally, he’s as convincing as I’ve heard since Domingo and you can’t doubt the intelligence or the sheer heft of the voice.  He didn’t make an ugly noise all evening.  My problem was that dramatically he seemed at a loss.  There needs to be a fire and passion about Otello and I wasn’t convinced he got near it.

Vratogna makes a very decent, solid Iago without offering any particular insights.  Agresta is really special and I’d love to hear her again.  The lesser parts were perfectly adequate with no-one really standing out.

Warner’s production is perfectly fine and serviceable.  There are some superb stage pictures and he offers an almost expressionist take on the piece.  There’s a lot going on with the set when I felt that I’d prefer more to be going on with the characters.  I wasn’t convinced that he’d particularly helped Kaufmann with a view of how he could make Otello his own and a lot of the direction frankly didn’t improve on the old Moshinsky production.  However, it’s a serviceable enough piece of work and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t serve as a decent backdrop for future casts.

As for Pappano, superbly seconded by his orchestra and chorus, I admired the accompaniment of the singers and the pacing of many parts but there were others where it just felt too ponderous.  I compared his timings to those of the recording I have of Kleiber in Milan – Pappano added at least 15 minutes to those and it showed.  And, irritatingly, a performance that should ended by 10.20 at the latest was not out until 10.40.

So this was high quality evening which got better and better as it went on even if it didn’t sweep you away from the start, as I still feel Otello should.


Enchanting Elisir

4 Jun

The Royal Opera was clearly having problems selling this revival of Elisir d’amore and offered its Friends some half price stalls seats.  I took the opportunity to take my niece.  It turned out to be a really happy performance.

It’s as hard to dislike Laurent Pelly’s neatly updated, very well-drilled production as it is hard to dislike the opera.  Neither puts a foot wrong nor outstays its welcome.  Some seemed to be hearkening back to the old Copley production and didn’t like Dulcamara’s lorry.  You have to be a bit of an old sourpuss to feel like that, it struck me, particularly when the lorry has flashing lights and fireworks.  There are lovely, daft ideas like the little dog that dashes across the stage and, above all, a deep understanding of how to keep the opera interesting.

Above all, Pelly keeps the human interaction at the core.   His characters are human beings who react to each other, listen and love.  That is what this lovely piece is about and the great duets where moved like dialogues.  This is a production that could quite easily go on forever.

I’d not originally been that taken with the cast but it was, actually, extremely good.  Pretty Yende has a lovely bright voice and she uses it intelligently, tastefully, musically.  I’ve heard other singers make more of a fuss out of Prendi and others with simply more sparkle in the voice for La ricetta e il mio visino.  I felt that she was tiring, slightly towards the end – the voice became just a tad shriller, the top slightly less grateful.  But, as well as a lovely voice and really good singing, she acts the role alertly.  I’ve ever found Adina a particularly sympathetic or attractive character.  Yende at least found a decency and honesty in her which made her rather interesting.  This was a super debut, however, and she’ll be welcome back.

So will Liparit Avetisyan who sang Nemorino – a replacement for Rolando Villazon.  I must say that I cannot imagine anyone regretting Villazon’s absence.  Avetisyan has a lovely gentle, warm voice that struck me as absolutely ideal for his role: nice high notes, but a warmth of phrasing and an openness about his singing that made him an absolute winner with the audience.  I’ve heard Una furtiva lagrima sung perhaps with greater style, with subtler pianissimi and more art, but rarely more openly or honestly.  He has a nice, gentle charm and the role seemed ideal for him.

Paolo Bordogna struck me as another very useful, stylish Italian baritone who I’d like to hear more of in these roles.  He caught the ridiculousness of Belcore but also, again, the basic decency.

Alex Esposito is that rare thing, a thin Dulcamara.  Maybe, a fuller, fruitier voice and a slightly more over-the-top personality would have helped but I really enjoyed his intelligent acting and his clear, strong singing.  He was alert, didn’t overplay and, again you believed in him.

The four made a lovely ensemble and, I’ve no doubt, were helped by Bertrand de Billy’s stylish, sensitive conducting.  The pace seemed right, the singers were able to breath and the delicacy and emotion of the score came across just about perfectly.  I like a stronger climax to the slow crescendo in the Act I finale (just listen to Pritchard on CD here) but its absence was, pretty much the only cavil I hard.  Chorus and orchestra were just fine.

Emma sat, pretty much, entranced, enjoying the fun, following the way the emotions turned and this was a show which made this opera seem as good as new.  A really lovely evening.

Moderate Don Carlos

21 May

Ok, time to get back to this blogging lark.  I’ve had some good times over the last few months – smashing Faramondo and Ormisda at the London Handel Festival and the fantastic Exterminating Angel at the ROH and Dr Atomic at the Barbican – but somehow didn’t get to writing them up.  Mind you, there also that Meistersinger… Anyway, back to work and first up is Don Carlos at the ROH which I saw on 15 May.

There is so much that there is wonderful about Don Carlo that it’s quite easy to get into the mindset that any performance short of the extraordinary is, in some way, a failure. It’s an attitude that ignores, first, the real problems with the opera and, second, the fact I would rather see a flawed one than miss the piece at all.  But the overall attitude to the opera is so easy to get into one’s head that I think it explains why people have been rather muted about what struck me as a very decent performance.

The cast, despite two late replacements, was pretty strong.  Bryan Hymel as Carlo sang strongly, if not subtly and made probably as good an authentic Verdian sound as you can get these days.  Maybe the odd pianissimo would be nice and he doesn’t exactly look the young romantic hero.

I was also impressed by Ildar Abdrazakov as Philip who created a very human king indeed. I loved his pianissimo opening to his Act IV aria and the way in which he caught the authority and the dilemmas of the role.  He opened up to Posa humanly.  Whereas with Furlanetto, you felt that here was a king unbending slightly, this was a man who was faced with being a king.

Christoph Pohl was a late replacement for Ludovic Tezier.  I think he’s a rather special baritone.  He has absolutely the right sound for the role: a sort of virile lightness that impressed me.  He caught the open, humanity of the role and looks good.  I wouldn’t mind hearing him again.

There was a gloriously old-fashioned, mezzo/contralto Eboli from Ekaterina Semanchuk: again as good as I’ve heard.  The role seemed to hold no terror for her and if, occasionally, you wanted more subtlety she’d then wow you with a top note or her gorgeous, rich lower register.  Her acting was pretty generic Eboli and I missed the some of the softness that Sonia Ganassi brought when the production was new, but if you want a Verdi mezzo…

I had most reservations about Kristin Lewis as Elisabeth – a late replacement for Krassimira Stroyanova.  She has a dark, Verdian voice, very much in the Leontyne Price mould but without the same control.  There was a real squalliness about her singing and, as with most Elisabeths, I found my mind wandering during her Act V aria and, indeed, the following duet.  I did enjoy her acting, particularly in Act I where she created a loving, youthful, open princess and she charted the journey from that to the sad, despairing queen rather well.

Bertrand de Billy conducting struck me as very fine too: he conjured some wonderful sounds out of the orchestra and his tempi seemed to be effortlessly right.  I really enjoyed the phrasing, particularly of the early parts and the wailing, growling strings in the last act.  He caught the sheer terror of the Grand Inquisitor (Paata Burchuladze, not as effectual vocally as he might have been ten years ago, but a strong presence) and he paced it really effectively, making you listen to the dialogues and the arias.  This was conducting that made you realise what a great work this is.

So maybe the problem was the staging.  Nicholas Hytner’s production had its problems even when it was new.  It’s at its best in the dialogues where, still, the emotions, the characterisations and the ideas ring true and they’re interesting.

The problem comes in the public scenes.  The auto da fe never really worked and, though it’s been reworked, there were just too few people for the space, Carlos’s insurrection was a mess and the picture of people with swords just standing there doing nothing is really poor.  The end of Act IV is similarly weak and the opening of the second scene of Act II can’t disguise the fact that the veil song is just a bit of padding.

The sets are variable.  The shaking trees in the first act are still there and are a bit of a disgrace and, for a lot of the time, the space is just too large.   They’re still beautifully lit.

Overall then, this was a decent, perfectly adequate performance of Don Carlos – the problems I’ve identified with the production are problems that the opera itself presents and Hytner’s failure is in coming to grips with those.  You don’t feel that there’s a vision for the opera or any guiding idea.  On the other hand, I still got a lot of pleasure out of this performance, mostly from the musical side and a newcomer will have got a good idea of why this is such a special opera.

Il Trova-fly

3 Jul

Il Trovatore has two problems: a perception of an improbable plot and a requirement for singing that is pretty rare these days.  If you don’t need absolutely the four greatest singers in the world, you need four who are in the top rank and able to cope with the generosity and accuracy that Verdi demands.  Most of these problems were in evidence at the very disappointing first night of the new ROH production on 2nd July.

Let’s begin with the production.  It was by David Bösch, a young German Director who has done some opera in Germany and a lot of plays.  I think this is his first Verdi and perhaps it’s unfair to have given him the sort of opera that has all those elements of opera than non-specialists find so difficult to take: arias and cabelettas, trios, dramatic ensembles and numbers that involve people standing round doing not much more than singing out. We’re rapidly losing the art of directing this sort of melodrama and I don’t think Herr Bösch has the answer.

The setting is a wintry landscape in some sort of modern state  – I think, but Leonora and the nuns seem to go around in ball gowns, even when trying to rescue Manrico.  Luna’s army has a tank – which looks very funny as it comes in huge shooter forward at the beginning of Act III.  The gipsies, interestingly, are circus, fair-ground types, rather than rebels, with Azucena in a Carmen costume.  The last scene is set in a barbed wire compound with Manrico and Azucena walking round more or less at liberty.  It’s an opera that depends a lot on darkness and people not seeing each other.  Even under camouflage, I think the nuns might have noticed that tank and the stage was pretty clearly lit: there was no chance of Leonora seriously mistaking Luna for Manrico.

There’s the obligatory video – birds circling and, most irritatingly, a butterfly that flies amusingly as Leonora sings (distracting you from her) and which looks really funny.  I don’t think this is intended.  What it has to do with Trovatore was utterly opaque to me.

There was some pretty half-hearted violence – a prisoner in Act III who seems to have all kinds of things happening to him but which never quite works.  At the end of the first scene, Azucena has petrol poured over her and faggots piled up by her, only to be taken away at the end.  There were two half-good moments: Leonora paused before her abduction by the grave she believed to be Manrico’s; and a prisoner was killed at Castellor just in time for Leonora to muse on this place of death.  But there wasn’t a lot else.

More seriously, despite the setting and odd ideas, the direction of the principals was distressingly inept.  They did nothing more than stand at the front and sing. There was little chemistry between them, little passion and, with one exception, I didn’t believe a word of it.  And the point about Trovatore is that it only ever works if the participants believe absolutely in what they’re doing and have some conviction to their passion. And just standing there isn’t enough.

Of course, Trovatore can be saved by great singing and a great musical performance.  Neither were really in evidence here and, probably, can’t be expected today.  The finest performance, and one which was very special indeed, came from Ekaterina Semenchuk.  In both Stride la vampa and Ai nostri monti she sang with an intensity and a really special pianissimo that had the house reaching out to listen to her.  There was that special silence that goes with really fine singing.  As she gets more experience, she’ll make more of some of the melodramatic declamation – Il mio figlio needs more bite and clearer words.  And in a better production, she’ll be a really great Azucena.  If I had any doubts about going to Don Carlo next season, her performance of Eboli will be a must see.

I had hoped that Zeljko Lucic would be similarly fine as Luna and, at the start, it sounded so promising – the rich astringent tone sounded like Gobbi and I really warmed to him.  But Il balen was, to put it mildly, only intermittently in tune and, as the evening went on, he seemed to lose interest.  It was a major disappointment.

Lianna Haroutounian was the Leonora – impressive in the first Act, but less and less interesting as it went on. It was perfectly decent, strong singing without ever making you feel that this was a particularly interesting Leonora.  Manrico is an impossible role.  Francesco Meli sang it probably as well as you can expect.  The high Cs, probably wisely, were avoided, and something very odd seemed to happen round about his entrance in the Miserere.  He makes a handsome figure on the stage and it was good to have some authentic Italian pronunciation.  On the other hand, you could not possible say that this was the answer to our prayers for a world-class Manrico.

Maurizio Muraro was a good Ferrando and Jennifer Davis made a very strong Inez.  The chorus was on outstanding form: clear, virile and together: this was as good choral singing as I’ve ever heard in this opera.

I admired a lot of Gianandrea Noseda’s conducting.  He found textures in the orchestration that I’d not heard before – the interplay of the instruments was really clearly done, the trumpets particularly fine.  On the other hand, tempi seemed variable: fast at the beginning, but feeling rather meandering and slow – particularly at the end of Act II and of the opera itself.

There may have been some first night problems.  The ROH have scheduled quite a lot of performances into the last fortnight of the season with alternating casts.  I wonder whether there’d been quite enough rehearsal and it may well be that, at later performances it might gel more musically.  And if you could delete the video and that wretched butterfly then you’d get rid of half the problems.  It still wouldn’t be a vibrant or interesting Trovatore.  I can’t see it lasting and I really can’t recommend that you go to see it.

In Parenthesis

3 Jul

1st July 2016 was about as appropriate a day as it gets to see an opera about the Battle of the Somme.  And the WNO chose this as the last performance of their production of In Parenthesis – about that battle – in their very welcome annual visit to the Royal Opera house.

The opera is based on a poem by David Jones – a modernist synthesis of his feelings about the battle.  I don’t know the poem.  The opera begins with the Bards of Britannia and Germania and moves pretty quickly to the Welsh regiment that will end up, mostly, being slaughtered at the Somme.  The hero, Private John Ball, is one of the last survivors and ends up being surrounded by the Queen of the woods and her fairies.  There are pictures of the regiment preparing for war, moving to the south, experiencing Christmas and then moving to the slaughter.

Iain Bell wrote the music.  There are good things: clear setting of the words, some marvelous choruses.  I’m not convinced that there’s anything here that takes us any further than the Britten of Billy Budd or the War Requiem.  It’s unobtrusive, inoffensive music for an opera that doesn’t have a lot of dramatic tension or interest.  It struck me, as much as anything, as a celebration/centenary piece rather than a particularly dramatic opera or one that would make its way in the repertory.

It was pretty well done.  The cast was excellent.  John Hidlake, a new name to me, was very strong indeed as Bell, the hero and main interest of the piece.  His clear, bright tenor suits the work well and I’d like to hear him in more – he’d be fine in Britten.  As his friend, Lewis, Marcus Farnsworth gave another very sympathetic, clear performance.

Among senior members of the cast, Donald Maxwell as Greatcoat, Graham Clark as the Marne Sergeant and Mark le Brocq as Snell gave well acted, eye-catching performances.  As the Bard of Britannia, Peter Coleman-Wright was in dry voice but gave an experienced performance, even if you weren’t quite sure what the point of his role was.  Alexandra Deshorties as the only female principal, impressed as the Bard of Germania, Alice the Barmaid and the Queen of the Woods: it’s an impressive voice and she sang strongly.

Carlo Rizzi conducted apparently very clearly.  The WNO orchestra was good and its chorus absolutely outstanding in some pretty wonderful choruses.

David Pountney directed.  It was pretty obvious stuff and he didn’t seem challenged or particularly interested in challenging us.  A lot of the stage pictures looked pretty 1950s to me.  Much the same applies to Robert Innes Hopkins’s set.

It was a pleasant enough, moderately enjoyable evening.  I can’t say I’d break my heart if I never saw it again.





Trittico returns

1 Mar

Richard Jones’s production of Puccini’s Trittico is one of the finest pieces of the work that the ROH has produced in recent years and it was high time for a revival.  Jones, together this time with Nicola Luisiotti, make these pieces seem like masterpieces – three perfectly paced, beautifully detailed miniatures that provide an outstandingly contrasted evening. While they do work as pieces on their own, somehow they fit together beautifully to make a satisfying whole.

Jones’s productions are among his finest. It’s possible to imagine other stagings being as effective but none significantly more so. He manages to rein in his trademark tics to the extent only that they feel appropriate and right.  He doesn’t try to unite the three operas artificially.  These are three different pieces and he makes the differences work.
In Tabarro, I love the way in which he catches the atmosphere of the slow Parisian evening, the passers by and the world going on outside (I’d missed or forgotten the way in which he undercuts the two lovers). You don’t sense a gap between the music and the production. And he builds up the tension in those swift final moments brilliantly.

The cast for Tabarro came in for some stick on the first night. They seemed pretty good for me. I preferred Patricia Racette as Giorgetta to the first run’s Eva Maria Westbroek – she’s a more understated performer, the voice, for me, more focussed. I thought that she acted the disappointed, frustrated wife marvellously, singing strongly, intensely. Carl Tanner as Luigi sounded fine until the very last notes of the duet with Giorgetta, when his voice seemed to desert him: I wonder if he was in best health. Before that, he’d been strong, ardent vocally. Maybe his acting of this rather difficult role wasn’t the strongest part of the evening. Perhaps I missed some of the sheer lushness that you can get in their duet, but it still packed a punch. Lucio Gallo as Michele strikes me as the most controversial piece of casting. He looks good – the declining, lean and hungry man – but vocally he simply doesn’t have the menace and the power of the jealousy that the role needs. If this returns (and please let it), can we have Mr Lukic?

Suor Angelica is the star of the staging with Jones treading absolutely the right balance of toughness and sentimentality. It’s a staging that makes you angry. The setting in the catholic children’s hospital is brilliant and it’s perfectly moved. It hinges, however, on the performance of Ermonela Jaho as Angelica. She is even better this time around. Her singing of Senza mamma was soft, wonderfully controlled, moving.  The scene with the Principessa unleashed, you felt, all the pent up anger and frustration of the last seven years. It’s one of the great interpretations of our day and I do hope that Ms Jaho will be back soon in more Puccini.

Anna Larsson struck me as even more effective as the Principessa than she had been in 2011 – there is less writhing, much more iciness and every look, every note spoke of her disdain for dealing with Angelica at all. The two struck sparks and the whole performance – beautifully detailed nuns, understated but very moving ending, struck me as one of the most powerful at the ROH in some time.  It made the work seem like a masterpiece, which I think perhaps it is.

I like Jones’s very funny, beautifully observed and timed production of Gianni Schicchi. It’s a gift of an opera and Jones seizes the opportunities to characterise all the individual relatives to perfection and he’s helped by fabulous performances from Elena Zilio as Zita, Marie McLoughlin as La Ciesca, Gwynne Howell las Simone and Jeremy White as Betto di Signa. Zilio, in particular, is a star in this sort of role.  The costumes are perfect and I loved the chaos at the beginning – the child running his car against the wall, the little girls getting in the way.

We had new lovers: Paola Fanale, ardent, a nice youthful tenor and good actor for Rinuccio, voice maybe just a tad small for the house; and Susanna Hurrell doing a very nice job indeed as Lauretta – singing sweetly and with the strength to make O mio babbino caro the highlight it should be.

Gallo is back as Schicchi. I enjoy his alertness, his intelligence and his great way with the words. It’s an understated performance and, ideally, you need a larger, fatter voice and a more exuberant personality – but maybe that would unbalance the rest of what is a tight, ensemble.  He’s the most controversial part of the casting and, maybe, you don’t have to double Michele and Schicchi.

The smaller roles in all the other operas were as well done as you’d expect with Jeremy White, Carlo Bosi and Irina Mishura impressing in their multiple roles, David Junghoon Kim excellent as the ballad seller, Lauren Fagan and Luis Gomes seizing their moment as the two lovers in Tabarro.

Nicola Luisiotti conducted idiomatically and at one with the production.  It was one of those where what you saw onstage reflected what you heard in the pit.  I didn’t miss Pappano. Orchestra sounded excellent to me.

It’s great to see these pieces again. They make a long evening and, interestingly, quite a few people didn’t come back for Schicchi – presumably because the reviews had been less than kind about Gallo and because Ms Jaho was so shattering. They missed an essential part of the evening. For all their differences, these three operas make a perfect whole and an evening that is more than the sum of its parts. Whatever individual imperfections there may have been, this was a hugely satisfying evening and I’d urge you to get along if you can.

Intense, beautiful Orpheus

24 Sep

With the main company in Japan, the ROH invited John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Players and the Monteverdi Choir to come and do Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice. Hofesh Schechter and his company were invited to provide the dancing. I saw the performance on September 23rd.  It turned out to be a really successful one-off show.

I’ve never quite got the enthusiasm for this opera. To me, Gluck’s later works, particularly the two Iphigenia pieces are far stronger, more interesting and dramatic than this which isn’t much more than a pièce d’occasion, albeit with some fine music in it and, of course, a fine opportunity for whoever is playing the leading role – in this case, Juan Diego Florez.

This was, therefore, the Paris version extended ballet music and this performance struck me as making about as good a case as possible for that, at least until the last half hour.

The orchestra is moved onto the stage, which is in three sections which are raised and lowered. The orchestra spends part of the time above the action and some of the time below the stage.  When above, you have a maze of and darkness.  When below, you can see right to the back of the stage and light is filtered through holes in the huge plates that hang above the stage – to magical effect for the Dance of the Blessed Spiirts – you see see the chorus and dancers from afar, mistily.  For the journey back, the plates descend and it feels as if you are in a passage, pressurised.  There’s a single chair, a dummy Euridice to be burned.  The rest is done by the moving platforms and plates: it’s simple, austere, concentrated.

The playing is outstanding. Gardiner makes the piece sound dramatic, the EBS make the music sound raw, new and energetic with glorious trombones in the furies scene, superb flute and oboe solos for the Dance of the blessed spirits and the following scene. I don’t think I’ve heard Gluck sound better, more dramatic or more convincing.

At the start, the body of Euridice is burned. Orpheus, with only a chair, expresses his grief simply. Amor, cheekily got up in a gold trouser suit sends him on his way. The scene between Orpheus and Euridice is directed with urgency, beautifully choreographed and provides great tension. At the moment of her death, the lights switches, heartbreakingly into something looking a bit like real life. The return of Euridice turns out to be little more than an illusion and, after the dances, he body is burned again. Direction is shared between Schechter and John Fulljames, the latter showing the form that made him seem so special doing work for Opera North.  It’s simple, ungimmicky and gets the work absolutely right.

It all goes fine until those dances and I felt about them exactly as I did with those after Idomeneo that they feel utterly wrong these days. They seemed to me to add nothing to the opera beyond keeping us in the theatre for a further half hour. Schechter’s choreography which, until then had seemed to be sensible, matching the music and, at times very beautiful, became unintelligible to me – but then I’m not a dance enthusiast. I really question why they need to be done.

Juan Diego Florez sang Orpheus with what struck me as a superb understanding of the style. He was elegant, restrained but passionate with the intensity and honesty that make him such a great artist. He sang his bravura Act I aria marvellously, with flair and passion; he understandably charmed the spirits, provided the sense of wonder for the Elysian Fields and the right conflicted urgency and love for the dialogue with Euridice. His J’ai perdu mon Euridice was superbly sung, cool, intense and with a some really love piano singing – he seemed to be able to find greater subtelty in the lines than most mezzos or counter tenors that I’ve heard. Physically he conveyed the conflict in the scene with Euridice marvellously well.

Lucy Crowe made a bewildered, passionate Euridice, siging really convincingly. I liked Amanda Forsyth’s bravura, cheeky Amor very much indeed. The Monteverdi Choir sang outstandingly and acted rather convincingly.

This was as satisfying and convincing an Orpheus as I’ve seen and would have been perfect for me, were it not for that wretched ballet.