Julius Caesar, Coliseum, London
Siegfried/Götterdämmerung, Royal Opera House, London

An innovative new production of Handel's opera is not so much a love story as a gory girl-power revenge tragedy, but the musicianship is sublime

Bloody and bold, choreographer Michael Keegan-Dolan's English National Opera production of Handel's Julius Caesar proposes a parallel between big-game hunting and seduction. It's a man's world, this plywood Alexandria: a place where severed heads roll like bowling balls, where a Roman emperor can swagger about in cowboy boots, boxer shorts and a prideful grin, where eviscerated crocodiles are strung from the ceiling, where women in gimp-masks ape caged panthers. It's a man's world, all right, an Ernest Hemingway safari laced with jiggles and wiggles from a dance troupe and buckets and buckets of gore. But what a miserable shower these men are. Tolomeo (Tim Mead) is a psychopath. Caesar (Lawrence Zazzo) is a chump. And Sesto (Daniela Mack) is a girl.

In Keegan-Dolan's reading, Sesto undergoes gender-reassignment, becoming Cornelia's daughter. Instead of a love story between a military hero and a manipulative queen, Julius Caesar is played as a girl-power revenge tragedy. Anna Christy's dainty Cleopatra is no vamp, and Patricia Bardon's tigress Cornelia becomes the focal point, resisting the brutish advances of Andrew Craig Brown's Achilla and the baroque humiliations meted out to her by Tolomeo with a croquet mallet and a giraffe's tongue. (Don't ask.)

Though some of the choreography is eloquent and pointful – gestures of yearning that echo the curve of Janice Graham's obbligato violin solo, a frenzied flutter of vultures' wings in Cleopatra's lament – as much again is fey and rhythmically disruptive. Christian Curnyn conducts a swift, stylish account of the score, with excellent work from the bassoon, horns and theorbo. There are no ensemble problems between stage and pit – Andrew Lieberman's set designs bounce the voices forward. Blowsy cadenzas aside, Zazzo sings with a virile, ringing tone. Mead excels, while James Laing sounds sweet and true in the tiny role of Nireno. Christy's phrasing is meticulous, but it is Mack and Bardon who are allowed to develop real authority in an otherwise undernourished, undernourishing, counter-intuitive production.

In the third and fourth music-dramas of the Royal Opera House's first cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen, conductor Antonio Pappano digs deeper and harder into Wagner's spiralling chromatic opiates. Book upon book is lifted, read and discarded in Keith Warner's production – thrown angrily away by Wotan in Siegfried, held as a talisman in Götterdämmerung – but the knowledge runs out. Here we see the progressive curdling of Mime's temperament (those nagging waltz rhythms), the sentimental education of Siegfried, the dreadful legacy left to Hagen, the betrayal of Brünnhilde, and the collapse of a world order built on stolen gold and gross exploitation.

Heavy-shouldered and shaven-headed, with a voice to match, Stefan Vinke was unafraid to play Siegfried as a thug and a fool, a bumptious beefy lamb to the slaughter. Gerhard Siegel's Mime was beautifully judged. Bryn Terfel's long-awaited Wanderer/Wotan did not disappoint, all growl and glow and bitter weariness, while Susan Bullock navigated Brünnhilde's journey from ecstasy to desolation, fury and redemption with bravery and intelligence. Among the smaller roles, Sophie Bevan's blithe Woodbird, Karen Cargill's richly focused Second Norn and Rachel Willis-Sorensen's flighty Gutrune stood out for expressivity and ease. Stricken with bronchitis, Wolfgang Koch mimed the role of Alberich in Siegfried (Jochen Schmeckenbecker drafted in from Vienna to sing from the side of the stage), recovering to powerful effect in Monday's Götterdämmerung, where his cough and rasp became integral to the character. John Tomlinson's watchful, tarry-voiced Hagen was, for me, the most powerful performance in the Cycle.

Some frustrations remain: why does Maria Radner's Erda appear on a leather-skirted umpire's chair, disappear while Wotan is addressing her, return on foot to deliver her side of the story, disappear again when he resumes singing, then return once more on the chair? And who are the young people who press against the New Money plate-glass walls of the Gibichung palace and strip to their vests as Brünnhilde combusts? As with coughs, snores or rustling sweet-wrappers, you have to ignore these and concentrate. For all the clunk-click of carabiners and ladders, the rutting of fibreglass antlers against tiled ceilings, something magical happened. And the loudest applause should be for the 114 instrumentalists who stood with their conductor in the bed of the Rhine at the curtain call, and will be playing it all over again today.

Ring cycle to 4 Nov (020-7304 4000) and broadcast live on Radio 3 on 16, 18, 21 and 24 Oct. 'Julius Caesar' to 2 Nov (020-7845 9300)

Critic's choice

Smith Square Autumn Festival starts on Wed, with lunchtime, evening and late- night performances of Brahms, Glass, Elgar, Monteverdi, Jonathan Harvey and John Cage by Songsmiths, Anemoi Ensemble, The Smith Quartet, La Nuova Musica, Rolf Hind and Group 627 at St John's, Smith Square, London.

Arts and Entertainment
When he was king: Muhammad Ali training in 'I Am Ali'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game