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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot