Classical: Royal Opera has nothing to get cocky about

Royal Opera: The Golden Cockerel Sadler's Wells, EC1 D'Oyly Carte: The Pirates of Penzance Queen's Theatre, W1

As the Royal Opera retreats into a costly 12-month leave of absence, it would be some small comfort to report that the last new show we'll get from the company until it returns to Covent Garden next December is a triumph. And if The Golden Cockerel were the work of Opera North, or Garsington, or some ambitious touring enterprise with half a budget, maybe "triumph" wouldn't be the wrong word. Tim Hopkins's school-of-Richard- Jones production has some nicely crazy, off-the-wall ideas. The singing ranges upward from not bad to seriously distinguished. And despite a last- minute change of conductor on the opening night that hustled Vladimir Jurowski on to the stand with not enough rehearsal time, the orchestral sound is pretty good.

Young Vladimir Jurowski is a star in the making - as you'll know if you witnessed his previous Royal Opera appearance, stepping in for Edward Downes in Nabucco, or his current WNO Hansel and Gretel which was shown on Channel 4 on Christmas Day. But the fact remains that this Golden Cockerel is not an Opera North show. It's the work of a supposedly front- rank international company. And by those standards it falls flat - for much the same reason that the Royal Opera's Bartered Bride falls flat. It has no energy, no life. From curtain up, you sense a sigh of corporate resignation. And in the soulless box which is the auditorium of the new but not especially exciting Sadler's Wells, it isn't helped by thin designs (Anthony Baker) and a production concept that only delivers half the piece.

Like most Rimsky-Korsakov operas, The Golden Cockerel is a fairy fantasy which manages to present itself as something steeped in Russian folk- consciousness, even though its provenance (via Pushkin) is a Washington Irving story set in Moorish Spain. A lazy, stupid Tsar, unable to protect his country from its enemies, is persuaded by his astrologer to rely on the services of a golden cockerel (ie, a weather-vane) to tell him what to do. The result is disaster, humiliation, and ultimately death, when the cockerel pecks the Tsar on the head. Rimsky's interest in the story was undoubtedly prompted by the real-life military incompetence of Nicholas II in the then-recent Russo-Japanese war. And Rimsky's response was accordingly a cocktail of fairy magic and absurdist satire: an extension of the literary tone of voice in Gogol, and the precedent for a whole subculture of Russian opera of which Prokofiev's Love for Three Oranges and Shostakovich's The Nose are prime examples.

The problem with this Tim Hopkins show, though, is that it runs with the satire and dumps the magic. Turning the cockerel into a symbol of proletarian revolution is fair game, as is the grandiloquent May Day parade of Soviet achievements that Hopkins interpolates into a big finale: so much of Rimsky's score is parody music, it invites that sort of cartoon gesture. But so much of Rimsky's score is also music of enchantment, ravishing and seductive. None of that gets any visual return here. There are two casts, alternating, and Cast A is mostly from Russia (or associated territories), led by Paata Burchuladze, who gives as full and rounded an account of the Tsar as the piece or the production permit. The Russian- Greek soprano Elena Kelessidi was ailing on the first night but still charming (in the tightly focused, elegant way of her recent Royal Opera Violettas) as the temptress Queen of Shemakha. And that bizarre haute- contre tenor Jean-Paul Fouchecourt (star of Covent Garden's Platee) finds a good home for his specialist skills in the dog-pitch role of the astrologer - set so high because Pushkin passingly describes the character as a eunuch.

As a footnote I should add that however disappointing the Cockerel might be, it shines brightly by comparison with the new (if you can call it that) D'Oyly Carte Pirates of Penzance. In two decades of sitting through dispiriting performances of Gilbert & Sullivan, I don't think I've ever seen anything so feeble, so pathetic, so embarrasingly bad. Certainly nothing with the audacity to call itself a professional production and charge West End prices. If this is the best D'Oyly Carte can do, it would be better for all concerned if the company accepted the inevitable and quietly died. As things are now, it's just a sad, incompetent purveyor of misplaced nostalgia.

`The Golden Cockerel': Sadler's Wells, EC1 (0171 863 8000), to 16 January. `Pirates of Penzance': Queen's Theatre, W1 (0171 494 5040), to 9 January.

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
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.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific