Arts: Two faces of the House

Opera and ballet were both celebrated at Covent Garden's gala re-opening, but worrying weaknesses were also revealed.

The opening operatic half of the Covent Garden gala double-bill was a curious way to sidle back on to the stage. While the Royal Ballet stunned us after the interval with a panorama of British talent past and present, the Royal Opera offered a dowdy series of excerpts from German operas which seemed less than the sum of its parts.

There may have been a historical justification for beginning with the overture to Weber's Oberon - the composer himself conducted its premiere at Covent Garden in 1826 - but despite Bernard Haitink's customary baton- magic this made a muted and shaky impression. We were listening for the acoustics as much as for the quality of the playing, and got little joy from either.

The musicians - overflowing from the stage on to little side-platforms - seemed unsure of themselves. The sound was at once bright and boxy, and in any case bore no resemblance to what it will be like when the band is in its proper place below stairs.

We had - well, we absolutely had to have - Placido Domingo singing with Deborah Polaski in the ensuing duet from Die Walkure, but he was muted too. No fire, no sparks jumped between them as they sang at each other across the front of the crowded stage.

To round things off with the liberation scene from Fidelio may have seemed a pleasantly symbolic idea, but it proved a lead balloon. The Royal Opera Chorus sang bravely, Christine Brewer as Leonore hit the heights, but one never felt for a moment that this was more than a routine concert performance. With all the world watching - on BBC2 and live on the Internet - it was thoroughly perverse to settle for such drab ordinariness.

All of which leads to the conclusion that, while the Royal Ballet's troubles seem over, the Royal Opera's are deepening by the hour. Whose hand is on the tiller? Or is the ship floating free? It seemed odd to make Ligeti's opaque Le grand macabre and Birtwistle's rebarbative Gawain the second and third items in the new house's inaugural programme. These were part of outgoing opera director Nicholas Payne's strategy, and it should have been ripped up. Now we learn that the technologically over-ambitious Falstaff may hit the rocks. Oh dear.

MC

Nostalgia: it's a great thing in the right circumstances, and the Royal Ballet's decision to take a look through its memories was exactly the right thing for the reopening of the Royal Opera House. Sentimental but proud. How clever, besides, to present these brief extracts from past highlights so simply and swiftly. One after another they came with no waiting for applause, so that finally it was the cumulative and collective effect that succeeded.

Not that the public fails to notice a star when it sees one; why else the tumultuous response to Sylvie Guillem as Manon dying so tragically? But Viviana Durante's Juliet did not go unremarked, nor Miyako Yoshida's quiet rapture in Symphonic Variations, Sarah Wildor's jollity in the cherry-eating duet from A Month in the Country and Darcey Bussell's smiling enjoyment of her role in The Prince of the Pagodas.

Yet for once, many of the peaks came from men. Do we miss that over-hyped group who defected last year? Definitely not, when Bruce Sansom remains to revitalise the real old Royal Ballet style, and is joined by Carlos Acosta swinging boldly and soaring through the Corsair solo, and Johan Kobborg crisp, neat and brilliant in a solo from Napoli. Angel Corella's debut in two numbers came as a foretaste of other male guests due here shortly - and don't write off Irek Mukhamedov yet, either.

Good to be reminded briefly of the company's past debt to visiting choreographers (Balanchine, Massine, Nijinska) and of Nureyev's enormous contribution to the Royal Ballet through his productions as well as his dancing. It was a great shame, though, to have two of the Royal Ballet's founders, Ninette De Valois and Robert Helpmann, represented only in photographs and to miss out entirely any hint of choreography by such greats as John Cranko and Antony Tudor.

Nevertheless, a vital aspect of the programme was that more than half the pieces given had been created over the years especially for the Royal Ballet. So this was not just nostalgia but a positive celebration of solid achievement. And more important than the refurbished auditorium (still, alas, with some interrupted sight lines) or backstage facilities, is the increased scope now available for continuing creativity. We know that all companies have problems in finding good choreographers, but if the new theatre helps overcome this, the gala could be a pointer to new as well as old achievements.

JP

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence