Image borrowed from http://www.roh.org.uk

First impressions are important. As the first few seconds – or so we are informed – of a job interview are vital, despite the main body of questioning occurring later, vital also are the first few minutes of an opera’s overture in setting the tone for the drama to come. Unfortunately the people sitting behind me considered their conversation more important than Mozart’s quietly brilliant shifting of harmonies and timbres around traditionally melancholic D minor, already prefiguring themes of death and social destabilisation. There being no time to point out what they were missing, a sharp instruction to desist had to suffice. I hope they then turned their attention to the music and were able to gain some enjoyment from the superb and perfectly controlled dynamic contrasts, almost dizzying in the passage of climbing scales, and the machine-level precision of ensemble playing in terms of timing, intonation and balancing of chords. Clarity and precision are an absolute must for Mozart, and throughout the performance the orchestra’s level was consistently very high indeed; however, conductor Constantinos Carydis carried machinelike precision to the extent of being somewhat robotic in his tempi, with little sense of long-line continuity, and unwilling to accommodate rubato from the singers. Still, perhaps this was a first-night effect and subsequent performances will have greater flow and flexibility.

Francesca Zambello’s 2002 production has been wheeled out regularly at Covent Garden over the last 10 years, and is for many now as familiar as a friend’s house: here is Donna Anna’s window with the attractive verdigris tiles and handy rungs for baritones to climb up and down; there is the window to the graveyard where people have constructed for the Commendatore a giant wicker man rather than the more traditional statue; and there is Don Giovanni’s villa, with its novel contracting ballroom and Turkish-bath-cum-dining room. Maria Björnson’s rusting dark green colour scheme is attractive, and the large multi-tasking wall with exposed staircase serves its purpose well in dividing scenes and assisting the simple but effective Personenregie. The first time I saw this production I was amused by the Don having dinner in a steam room, in his underpants, and thought it a gimmick. However, on reflection, I think it a brilliant idea to have the character (almost) naked for his final scene, as all his layers of artifice and subterfuge are finally stripped away and he is left looking death in the face without the protective armour of social class that comes with a nobleman’s dress.

Gerald Finley inhabits the title role with complete ease and confidence, vocally and dramatically. A dab hand at charm and sleaze, his Giovanni is astutely observant of other people’s human weaknesses (and his own), fully enjoying playing them off against one another. This makes an interesting change from the characterisations of the famous sex addict provided by the two previous incumbents – Erwin Schrott’s feral, amoral libido-on-legs, and Simon Keenlyside’s superficially-civilised psychopath bubbling with barely-concealed violence. I have yet to hear a single unpleasant note escape Finley’s mouth, and this performance was no exception, with “Là ci darem la mano” and “Deh vieni alla finestra” able to melt the steeliest of chastity belts. As his accomplice Leporello, Lorenzo Regazzo possessed a fine and, may I say, seductive voice of his own, particularly rich in the lower register. The catalogue aria was rather on the ponderous side, but made up for by pleasing tone quality.

On which subject, the Ottavio issue: always an unappealing character, ineffectual and impotent, Matthew Polenzani’s Don Ottavio was as wet and hopeless as any I’ve seen; however, his “Dalla sua pace” was quite beautiful, with richness of tone colouring, delicacy of phrasing, and very impressively projected pianissimi. “Il mio tesoro” is very far from being a favourite aria of mine, but on this occasion I was very glad that it wasn’t cut (as in the Vienna version of the opera). The blend of Polenzani’s voice and Hibla Gerzmava’s (Donna Anna) worked particularly well, and her performance was also a fine one, notable particularly for clarity at the top and emotional shading, turning in the space of a second between tender vulnerability and vengeful anger.

I was intrigued by the unconvincing nature of Zerlina and Masetto’s relationship (Irini Kyriakidou and Adam Plachetka): she with the air of having settled for the best peasant available but very ready to upgrade; he giving the impression of seriously considering whether to take “Batti, batti” literally. With no intention of criticising Kyriakidou’s instrument itself, I found her voice wrong for the role, with the wide vibrato obscuring what should be the clean lines of Zerlina’s simple melodies. Katarina Karnéus, on the other hand, turned out to be a very sympathetic Donna Elvira, strugging against both herself and the societal expectations of women’s behaviour. A little stiff in her opening aria, she warmed up in Act 2 and sang with confidence and feeling. As a generalisation, all of the younger cast members were convincing in their arias, but tended towards a rather mugging style of acting in between them.

As mentioned above, I like the steamy setting of the final scene, and dramatically the Commendatore’s return really did come off very well. It appears that the Royal Opera are not allowed to fling on all their Bunsen burners together any more, having to carefully turn up a couple at a time, but they got some impressive flames going, as the dead Commendatore did his impersonation of the God of Hellfire. Perhaps they might consider giving him a flaming hat too – although that might have diminished the gravitas so ably conveyed by Marco Spotti’s dark and ringing pronouncements. Given that the giant wicker hand was also set alight, I wonder if at any point the production team considered making a whole Wicker Man, and sticking a dummy Don Giovanni in the middle of it to burn? Anyway, if one wants to end an opera in spectacular fashion, make up for any earlier patchiness, and leave the audience with big smiles on their faces, filling the stage with huge flames and smoke is a jolly fine way to do it. Bravi, technical crew.

[Review written for and reproduced here with the kind permission of Opera Britannia.]

Image borrowed from http://www.roh.org.uk

Recently there seems to have been even more discussion than usual in the media about the role of bloggers, journalists, reviews and previews. Thus, as clarification:

  • This was not a performance, but a dress rehearsal to which students were invited. I bought my own ticket for £10.
  • It was a separate occasion to the main dress rehearsal, to which ROH paying members were invited.
  • Judging by the effort the ROH went to in publicising this special student event by email, twitter, facebook, etc. one can only assume they want to create a buzz about the show, i.e. engagement with the performance and subsequent responses to and discussions of it are welcome.
  • This is not a review, it’s a personal aide-memoire which I’m sharing on my blog.

Initial reactions to the announcement of a new ROH-commissioned opera based on the life of Anna Nicole Smith often seemed to run along the lines of whether it was a fitting subject for opera or not. I found the arguments (for ‘not’) based on the luridness and amorality of her lifestyle and life choices rather odd, from an art form celebrating Carmen, Tosca, Salome, and Lulu. A better argument might come from the fact that many of the characters involved are still alive (although sadly not Anna or her son), and portrayed in a very unappealing light. I say ‘unappealing’ rather than ‘unflattering’ as, not being much of a sleb-watcher, I have no idea how accurately-presented the people and events are – although, for that matter, how much can the public ever know of the inward life and relationships of individuals? I assume, however, that everything’s been checked for sue-ability.

So, being barely aware of the real Anna Nicole’s existence, apart from a dim idea of some tarty blonde who’d married a doddery old rich guy (and even then, getting her confused with Lolo Ferrari), I was impressed by the character created by librettist Richard Thomas, director Richard Jones, and soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek. While being vain, ignorant, greedy, irresponsible, and half a page full of other dislikeable traits, Westbroek’s Anna was still, somehow, likeable; she brought across both huge self-belief and fragility to create a surprisingly complex and completely believable character – more so, perhaps, than the Duchess from Powder Her Face, with which the work has certain similarities of form. I’ve seen Westbroek twice (I think) before, recently as Elisabeth (Tannhauser) and previously in Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, and am of the opinion she just gets better and better as a singer, and is also a superb actor – especially given the range required for just the three roles I’ve seen her in. Also somewhat transformed from when I last saw him (as Gandhi in Satyagraha) was an unrecognisably geriatrified Alan Oke as J Howard Marshall II, descending to the stage in his chairlift, and later getting dolled up in gold shellsuit for party time. Being a rehearsal, it’s not appropriate to discuss all the individual voices, but I can’t miss an opportunity to mention Gerald Finley (Stern – Anna’s lawyer/lover and all-round slimy villain of the piece), from whose mouth Never Comes An Unlovely Sound.

It’s not unusual to see an opera production full of contemporary sets and costumes, or hear a libretto full of 20th/21st century cultural references (and Swear Words to snigger at); however, it did strike me that given how common it is to see updated Handel or Mozart characters in jeans, snorting coke and telling eachother to fuck off (extra obscenities interpolated into recapitulation sections), I had to remind myself now and then that this was not a trendy updating of anything, but a tale of people who wore jeans, snorted coke and told eachother to fuck off. When Anna is shown working in a fast food stall near the start, it actually means she fried chickens for a living, rather than, say,  a commentary on social underclasses through the ages; when she is shown going to a strip club, the pole-dancers aren’t jazzed-up Rheinmaidens, they are literally pole-dancers that she met; this literalism took some getting used to. Unfortunately, this also means that a rousing chorus of “boobies, titties, funbags, dingdongs” (or something along those lines) isn’t a bad translation of an old text but actually the words the librettist chose. To be fair, the libretto is witty in parts, appropriately idiomatic, and contains what are some very funny lines, when well-delivered. Those who saw Jerry Springer: The Opera will know the kind of thing to expect.

I don’t actually know any of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s music, although the name is familiar enough that I feel I really ought to. I read that he has eclectic musical tastes, including a particular fondness for jazz, and the genre-blending in this work was certainly done more smoothly and skilfully than many composers manage. I got something of a Sondheim vibe from it; although tbh I don’t know much of Sondheim’s oeuvre either, the varying of discordant rhythmic sections with periods of laid-back lyricism reminded me a few times, musically, of Sweeney Todd. The standard orchestra is bumped up with saxes, electrics, kit, and a generous visit to the percussion cupboard; none of these things appear intrusive or unexpected, in context. There are recurrent melodic motifs which add continuity, and even some tunes one might leave humming (not that I particularly require hummable tunes in a piece of music, but there are those who do).

One thing, I felt, was missing. Early info about Anna Nicole implied there would be a ‘blowjob aria’, and I was rather looking forward to doing the first musicological comparison of this particular microgenre (i.e., with the one in Powder Her Face), but it wasn’t what you’d call an aria at all. Marshall just emits a couple of (musical) groans, from where he is hidden behind a crowd of chorus, then Anna wanders out, wiping her mouth. Oh well.

All in all, the story succeeds to some extent in both tragic and comic aspects (and there are death scenes of both kinds), has pleasant and intelligent, if not boundary-pushing, music, delightfully gaudy and tasteless sets, and performers who throw themselves into their roles with gay abandon. It also makes its (one) point as a critique of the shallowness of celebrity culture: when one of the cast members, early on, wandered on in a black bodysuit with a camera on her head, I thought it was silly, but as the story continued, increasing numbers of individuals in the crowd scenes were replaced by anonymous black-camera-people, until at her death, they are all that is left – this proved an arresting and poignant image on which to end.

Image by C Barda, borrowed from www.musicalpointers.co.uk

Image by C Barda, borrowed from http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk

It would seem reasonable to expect a company called the English National Opera to be particularly good when it comes to English opera, and fortunate that this seems to be the case. Musically, this production of Peter Grimes was excellent, pretty much without a weak link. The company, both principals and chorus, were not only in fine voice, but gelled to an unusual degree, and really gave the impression of a tightly-knit community supportive of those who embraced convention and punishing to those who challenged it. However, perhaps it was my close view from the front of the dress circle, but many of those on stage seemed to me to be overacting to the point of pantomime (again). For example, I have no problem with Ned Keene (Leigh Melrose) being portrayed as a nasty, lecherous sleazebag, but did he really need to spend so much time gyrating his hips and groping his own groin area (or other people’s)?

Gerald Finley also spent the entire performance with one hand down his trousers, but this was for an entirely different reason; because the character of Captain Balstrode apparently has only one arm, whereas Mr Finley is blessed with two. As has been the case on most occasions I have seen him perform, he sang beautifully, acted compellingly, looked handsome, and didn’t get to sing half as much as I would have liked him to.

I was very impressed by Stuart Skelton in the title role. He created a truly complex character from Grimes, conflicted and disturbed, neither wholly innocent nor guilty, well-meaning in intention but brutish in action. He was able to make the audience feel his frustration at needing help with his work, but having acquired an apprentice who refused to work, speak, or even put on wellies. (Of course, this is not particularly surprising behaviour in a traumatised orphan child, and most certainly does not deseve beating, but the fact that we can sympathise at all with Grimes does Skelton credit.) His singing was highly expressive, using a great variety of tone colours and dynamics, which were particularly effective towards the top of the tessitura. Amanda Roocroft was also in fine form as Ellen, throwing herself into another troubled ‘heroine’, with a few moments of shriekiness at the top, but otherwise singing with clarity and control. For some reason, I did not find the blend of their two voices worked well at all, but this was not a big issue, as Peter and Ellen do not actually sing together that much.

The overall look of the production was drab, plain and grey-toned, with a very attractive luminescent (but still mostly grey) clouded skyscape as backdrop. The cast were mostly also drably dressed, although some of them did put on mildly ridiculous fancy dress for the party in Act 3. They were generally menacing, full of repressed violence and herd mentality, occasionally all brandishing bibles or Union flags in a kind of fascistic salute. However, there were other exceptions to the ‘herd’ other than Peter and Ellen. ‘Auntie’ (Rebecca de Pont Davies) was a natty sharp-suited transvestite, for example. Her nieces (Gillian Ramm and Mairead Buicke) were simply weird; mostly sporting school uniforms, they jerked and flopped around the stage like a pair of zombie Lolitas, playing hopscotch, putting on a dead-eyed faux-lesbian show, or doing strage synchronised robotic dance moves. They made a pleasant noise when singing, but when not singing I wished they’d just piss off. Of the other roles, I liked Matthew Best’s ringing bass voice (as Swallow), and Felicity Palmer’s take on Mrs Sedley – as a bitter and vitriolic, drugged-up Miss Marple.

When it came to curtain calls, there was, rightly, enthusiastic applause for all performers, but the loudest, and I believe rightly, was reserved for the orchestra and Edward Gardner. With the extended instrumental passages provided by Britten, they really had a chance to show what they could do, and it was superb. At the risk of descending into pretentious cliche, I could practically smell the salt spray, and at the first stirrings of the storm it felt like the ambient temperature dropped by a few degrees. Naturally I take special notice of the flute section, and Britten was a gifted composer for the flute. Jaime Martin on principal was particularly brilliant , varying his tone from liquid silk to serrated steel, with Alan Baker spiky or gossamer on piccolo. I was also particularly impressed with the viola section and the upper brass, but in truth all sections, without exception, were excellent. I hope the ENO do more Britten soon; I’ll go and hear them play it.

image borrowed from www.independent.co.uk

image borrowed from http://www.independent.co.uk

So there I sat as the theatre filled up, in a decidedly unappreciative frame of mind thanks to a middle-ear infection – ibuprofen’d to the eyeballs, deaf on one side apart from a constant whistling noise, and distracting myself by trying to work out which elements were missing from the large periodic table which was printed on the stage scrim. And there 3 hours later, enthusiastically applauding performers, production team and composer for an evening which I enjoyed a great deal, despite myself.

The opera opens with two large sets of stacked cubicles, each one containing a chorus member, seat, bit of blackboard and a screen which could be pulled down over the front of the cubicle and have stuff projected onto it. This device was used many times throughout the production and was visually effective in conveying all the different ‘normal’ people each working on their own little bit of research for the Manhattan project, coming together only later as the bomb took shape. I do like the multimedia experience of using projection screens on stage, although in this case the images used were mostly monochrome and pretty literal – scientists’ ID cards, maps of Japan, rainstorms, etc. There wasn’t much to the rest of the set – a desk for Teller, a bed for Kitty Oppenheimer to languish on, and some scaffolding for the bomb tower – but one’s attention was all on the characters singing, anyway.

Adams was never my favourite minimalist, but I have always found his music listenable. I’m not familiar with most of his more recent work, so was interested to hear this one. It surprised me by the number of different styles that were mixed up together – rich Wagnerian textures here, jazzy Sondheim-esque stabbing rhythms there, along with passages of traditional minimalist bubbling woodwind accompaniments or Shaker Loops strings. Under a less experienced composer this mixture would probably have not held together, but in this case it did. The harmony was tonal but chromatic, sometimes straying far from a sense of home key. I found it best when the vocal lines were more lyrical and sustained (although often with spiky dissonant orchestral accompaniment), compared to the staccato fast-talking sections.

The libretto didn’t do an awful lot for me, but lyrics rarely do. The tension of the scientific and political context was quite dramatic enough by itself, but those who can’t bear a romance-free story will be glad to hear there was the ‘subplot’ of the Oppenheimers’ marriage, which actually did not feel shoehorned in at all.

Of the performers, Gerald Finley (Oppenheimer), Brindley Sherratt (Teller) stood out as excellent. Finley is becoming one of my favourite singers, and was a charisma machine in complete command of his role, showing a three-dimensional character conflicted about his success in developing a world-changing engine of destruction. ‘Batter my heart’ was probably the highlight of the evening. Sherratt, an old favourite of mine, sang his part very well, although he didn’t get as much to do as I would have liked. He injected Teller with a fantastic deadpan black humour.

I also particularly enjoyed Sasha Cooke’s Kitty Oppenheimer. Her voice was lovely, with a tone well-balanced between clarity and richness, and the flexibility to comfortably slur jumps of over an octave as if they were a semitone. ‘Am I in your light?’ was another highlight of the evening. Meredith Arwady (as Pasqualita, the Oppenheimer’s Tewa Indian maid, complete with buckskin outfit and pigtails) hit some amazing resonant low notes, but was less convincing when switching to higher-pitches passages – although this may well be the fault of the writing rather than her voice.

The orchestra sounded good, although not knowing the music I can’t comment on accuracy. The piccolo was featured quite a lot, and was played very well (Regular readers will know that I always notice what the piccolo is doing!), and other stand-outs were the principal horn, Eb clarinet and low brass. The sparing use of electronic sound blended well into the overall soundscape, and the only bit that jarred for me was the tacked-on recording at the end of a woman (presumably future bomb victim) speaking in Japanese.

As for once I’m writing this right at the start of the run, I can advise any waverers that Dr Atomic is definitely worth an evening of your time!

//www.musicomh.com

Image by B Cooper, borrowed from http://www.musicomh.com

Many stage works contain dream sequences, but perhaps not many have dreams that last for more than half the performance? Also, I don’t think that any I have seen evoke quite so well the surreal and disjointed imagery of dreaming (or some of my dreams, at least!) For me, the stars of this performance of Die Tote Stadt were Willy Decker’s beautifully-judged visual production, and the ROH orchestra.

Paul (Stephen Gould) lives mostly in one room, paralysed by grief over his wife Marie’s death, and watched over with concern by his housekeeper Brigitta (Kathleen Wilkinson) and friend Frank (Gerald Finley). He is temporarily roused from his stasis by encountering young dancer Marietta (Nadja Michael), who looks uncannily like Marie (although does not act like her; the two women are cast in the traditional female stereotypes of “saint” versus harlot). The story, such as it is, concerns Paul’s struggle to separate illusion from reality and retain (or regain) his sanity.

Hearing Korngold’s score for the first time, I cannot make any comparisons regarding musical decisions such as tempi and balance. At the start of each act, and particularly the 3rd, the music sounded very cinematic – although it’s possible I was biased by knowing that film music would in later years become the main part of Korngold’s career! At these points the music bordered on schmalzy, but for most of the time this was not the case. Orchestral timbres and textures were varied and interesting, and although strongly melodic and tonal, the ‘big chords’ were often subverted by quiet dissonance. I wonder if it would be going too far to suggest that the use of bitonality could represent the duality of the conscious/unconscious mind? Anyway, the orchestra were on top form and played beautifully under Ingo Metzmacher. Special props, as usual, to the woodwind section.

The staging was of a style I particularly like; a fairly minimalist and uncluttered main stage are (in this case a wooden floored room, door, 2 chairs and a large portrait of Marie) with side walls, but no back wall, and an infinite-looking empty space behind. This missing-wall-space also contained a thin screen for projections, which was very effective, particularly when more and more identical images of Marie appear before the tormented Paul.

In Act 2, when Paul begins to dream, a duplicate of the stage area appears behind the first, and a duplicate Paul gets up and acts out his dream (involving Marie returning from the dead to talk to him, his best friend’s betrayal, and the irritating antics of a bunch of white-clad hyped-up drama school types), while the real Paul lies asleep in his chair. After Marie/Marietta’s appearance, the two separate arenas of action slowly begin to merge, until finally actors step easily from one to the other. For anyone who tends to experience hypnagogic states, this was an unnervingly accurate portrayal of the way dream elements (f0r example, people we have been thinking about) can superimpose themselves on what had appeared to be reality. It is unsurprising that Paul was confused, upon waking, thinking that he had just strangled Marietta with Marie’s hair (echoes of Porphyria’s Lover).

Talking of which, considering the number of lines in the libretto about Marie/Marietta’s hair, it was an interesting decision to make dream-Marietta bald. It was very visually striking, and with her slim dancer’s frame made her look quite alien, or perhaps like a mannequin come to life. However, when she repeatedly invited Paul to touch and admire her hair, it did make one think ‘What are you talking about? You haven’t got any hair, you daft woman.’ Nadja Michael threw her all into acting the role physically, and was very impressive. Vocally, she had some great moments, but could be uncontrolled at times in volume and pitch. Power was not lacking, but greater subtlety and variation would have improved things. Still, it did seem an awfully demanding role.

Even more demanding (as far as I can tell) was Gould’s role. Again, he sounded really very good at times, particularly in the middle register, but he sounded like he was straining to deliver volume at the top. However, although forced-sounding from the start, his voice did not deteriorate at all throughout around 2 hours of singing, so full marks for stamina. His acting was rather wooden, but it didn’t matter too much in this role, as he was in a trance-like state or actually asleep for a lot of the time.

The supporting roles were all competently-sung, but the most enjoyable voice on stage by a long way was Gerald Finley, and although the Pierrot-lied was lovely, it was a shame he didn’t have more to do. Looking forward to hearing him in Dr Atomic next month…

Image borrowed from www.musicomh.com

Image borrowed from http://www.musicomh.com

Good news first, or bad? I was in the Upper Slips again for this performance, (excellent sound but a poor view of the stage) and I’m inclined to think that this was a really good choice of seat, under the circumstances.

Good first, then… People have been recommending Pelleas et Melisande to me for some time, but it’s never got anywhere near the top of my listening list. This is because, although Debussy’s flute parts are always very satisfying to play, and I can appreciate that he wrote exceptionally well for woodwind, I just don’t particularly enjoy listening to his music. It’s pleasant enough, but has never really done much for me. However, this proved to be the exception; it was lovely, gripping, truly moving, and totally knocked me for six. I’d been warned that this opera could be ‘difficult’ to get into, and that it would be advisable to do some ‘homework’ on the music and story beforehand: what complete bollocks! There’s nothing like the thrill of hearing something great for the first time, and the fact that I didn’t actually know how it was going to end only added to the dramatic tension. With Simon Rattle waving the stick, the ROH orchestra sounded as good as I’ve ever heard them (which is pretty damn good). I couldn’t pick out a particular section for specific praise, partly because there seemed to be a greater degree of coherence, creating the effect of a single musical organism.

And the bad… In my personal opinion, the staging was rubbish, the lighting harsh and the costumes ridiculous. Quite why on earth one would want to dress all the singers in white rhinestone-studded fat-suits (an unholy mix of Elvis, Pierrot, and the Michelin Man) which made them look like they all had huge arses, I do not know. This stuffing in their clothes also appeared to be constricting their movements, although that may have just been the stage direction. The set consisted of some large boxes which were twizzled round by stage crew between scenes, then opened up to reveal multiple copies of a selection of objects each chosen to point out what the director thought was the main theme, or symbol of each scene. Hence, there’s a scene where people receive letters, so we have a big box full of letters; a bit about Melisande picking flowers, so we have a big box of white flowers; a bit about Golaud being wounded, so we have a big box of pillows with a blob of red on (although this could also have signified Melisande menstruating, for all I know). One scene, for want of ideas, just had the words ‘Pelleas et Melisande’ in lights, repeated many times. I read somewhere on the internet that this was supposed to be Braille, to signify Arkel’s failing sight; however, I don’t think Braille simply consists of making normal letters out of a lot of dots. Later, there were lots of empty clothes; this actually looked quite spooky, but Satyagraha did it better. Not that I particularly wanted realism in terms of forests, water, etc., but the neon-lit shop-window display look just didn’t seem to go with the music or story. IMO.

Dressing Melisande in a slinky red dress was an interesting decision, perhaps signifying less the ethereal innocent and something more like Carmen, first bewitching one man, then tiring of him and swiftly moving on to the next, with bloody consequences. This would seem to fit with Angela Kirchschlager’s interpretation, which I am lead to believe was unusually ‘gutsy’ (although I cannot make comparisons). Of course, one main difference between the characters is that Carmen is bluntly honest, whereas Melisande blithely admits to deceiving and lying to Golaud. I was thinking that she really is a dislikeable character, totally self-centred and amoral – although it did occur to me later that perhaps this was unfair, and that her unreasonable behaviour sprung from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. While not condoning Golaud’s violence, I can quite see why he got so pissed off with her – although that may have had something to do with the wonderfully expressive, agonised portrayal of the role by Gerald Finley. His sadness, when his repeated attempts to understand her behaviour and to make her happy were ignored or thrown back at him, was moving, and his increasing irritation at her uncommunicativeness, entirely believable. I imagine I would be pretty annoyed if my wife dropped her wedding ring down a well (pool, orchestra pit, whatever) and didn’t think it important enought to mention, let alone actually apologise or express regret at the loss.

One scene that did work very well was the one where Golaud forces his small son to spy on his wife and her (suspected) lover. Finley was in full tortured misery mode by this point (again, utterly believable, and still sympathetic to some extent, despite the growing bitterness), and the boy playing the brat Yniold (George Longworth) was probably the least irritating child I’ve seen on the ROH stage (actually quite high praise, from me). P & M were stuck on chairs halfway up one of the aforementioned boxes, staring at eachother. I know I’m not selling it, but this was good.

One scene that did not work well was the bit about Melisande doing the Rapunzel bit, hanging her hair out the window to her handsome non-prince. As she didn’t have any extra hair to hang down, Pelleas (Simon Keenlyside) was left waving his arms around in some imaginary hair in the air (while also, for some reason, doing lunges). To be fair, he is an excellent actor, and gave it his best shot, but it just looked a bit daft. I decided to avert my eyes for a while, and just listen to his lovely singing (and Mr K is one of the last singers one would expect to be saying that of).

All the singers, in fact, were excellent. In addition to those already mentioned, there was Robert Lloyd as a classy Arkel, Catherine Wyn-Rogers (who I had it in my head I didn’t like – can’t remember why not) under-employed as Genevieve, and Robert Gleadow as the shepherd/doctor.

Silliest moment (apart from seeing the stupid costumes for the first time): Golaud commenting that the lovers were “kissing like a brother and sister” (or similar). Well, no, not unless the brother and sister in question were Siegmund and Sieglinde.