La forza del destino, Opera Holland Park, London
Fantastic Mr Fox, Opera Holland Park, London
Proms 10 and 14, Royal Albert Hall, London

Suave conducting and searing performances make sense of Verdi's sprawling, brawling opera of ideas

Battered by shame, rage and sorrow, three characters roam war-torn Europe in search of peace, their identities concealed.

From the first brazen shriek of the fate motif and the startled gasp of roiling strings, you know they are doomed. Meanwhile, battles and profits are won and lost, and the poor are chastised and consoled by pedlars of faith, fortune and nylons. This is La forza del destino, Verdi's sprawling, brawling "opera of ideas", relocated to the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath in Martin Duncan's pitch-black production for Opera Holland Park.

La forza del destino is an unholy mess. The plot is littered with unlikely coincidences, the narrative is interrupted by extended sideswipes at church hypocrisy, and the title is misleading. Though the shot that kills the Marquis of Calatrava (Graeme Broadbent) is accidental, the engine of destruction is honour. Honour is what drives Don Carlo (Mark Stone) to avenge his father's death and the alleged deflowering of his sister Leonora (Gweneth-Ann Jeffers) by the mestizo Don Alvaro (Peter Auty), who in turn conceals his royal blood.

Conductor Stuart Stratford's suave, urgent reading of Verdi's overture sets the scene for a production that ricochets between naturalism and exaggeration, held together by a searing performance from the City of London Sinfonia and the chorus. The wide stage has been extended still wider by designer Alison Chitty, with a line of black chairs for the anonymous poor whose sufferings are the backdrop to the crises of the rich. Dressings are minimal (a wooden cross, a vast, crumpled charcoal canvas, a Cornelia Parkeresque explosion), aristocratic Seville, poverty-stricken Honchuelos, shell-blasted Velletri, the cave and monastery of Our Lady of the Angels, all delineated in different groupings of the same furniture.

Duncan's direction of the chorus is confident, most particularly in the transition from the raucous finale of Act III to the desolate opening of Act IV. His individual characterisations are less thorough. Jeffers's Leonora is unstable from the start, a fragile creature whose years of solitude turn "Pace, pace, mio Dio!" into a moonstruck mad-scene. There's grit and shimmer in this ample voice, and she soars magnificently over the chorus. Auty's tone has thickened, though "Urna fatale" is elegantly phrased, but Alvaro seems only to come to life as his lover expires. Stone's intonation is unreliable but he has the measure of this hot-blooded, foolish character. Among the supporting cast, Carole Wilson delivers a nimble Preziosilla, despite being dressed as a pottery teacher from Totnes, and Aled Hall steals the scene as Trabuco. As the misanthropic Fra Melitone, Donald Maxwell relishes every jibe, while Mikhail Svetlov delivers a solid Padre Guardino.

Staged in the woodland behind the theatre, with a half-dozen pianos dotted around the lawn, Stephen Barlow's charming production of Fantastic Mr Fox is an excellent introduction to opera for the children and grandchildren of Holland Park's audience. Tobias Picker's 60-minute, 1998 adaptation takes some liberties with Roald Dahl's subversive story, adding a romantic sub-plot for Miss Hedgehog (Jaimee Marshall) and the Porcupine (Julian Alexander Smith), but the score is such a moreish, citrusy cocktail of Britten, Poulenc, foxtrots and klezmer that it would be churlish to gripe.

Audience participation is restricted to dashing between scenes, cushion in hand, while the violin, viola, cello, clarinet and bassoon follow behind. (My 10-year-old assistant informed me that this was his favourite bit.) In one glade there is Mr Fox's (Grant Doyle) den, in another, the farmhouse where Boggis (Henry Grant Kerswell), Bunce (Peter Kent) and Bean (John Lofthouse) live, cutely and revoltingly characterised in Sean Taylor's designs. Conductor Tim Murray keeps a tidy house, though the outdoors acoustics are variable. The fox cubs' young voices blend sweetly (Bryn Barton, Martha Berkmann, Katie Breslin, Alex Franklin, Hannah Caplan), while Hannah Pedley's dipsomaniac Rat, Olivia Ray's brisk, practical Mrs Fox and Patrick Mundy's eager Mole are outstanding in a lively cast.

Last weekend saw the return of Dr Who to the Royal Albert Hall, with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (Prom 10). As in 2008, the Radio 3 message boards were hot with harrumphing, though between the Listen Again facility and the BBC2 broadcast of Prom 4, there was plenty of non-Who entertainment around. The difference between music that is composed to accompany moving images (Murray Gold's Battle in the Skies and Pandorica Suite) and music that inspires images in one's own mind (John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine, Holst's Mars, Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries) is clear enough, even to a 10-year-old. But how many performances of Holst, Adams and Wagner are genuinely wriggler-friendly?

Listening to Paavo Jarvi's scalding, dance-informed performances of Beethoven's First and Fifth Symphonies with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen (Prom 14) some days later, even I had difficulty keeping still, so infectious and exhilarating was the playing, while Hilary Hahn's ethereal, unadorned, pure-voiced performance of the Violin Concerto seemed to stop time altogether.

'La forza del destino' (0845 230 9769) to 14 Aug; 'Fantastic Mr Fox' (0845 230 9769), to 14 Aug

Next Week:

Claudia Pritchard goes in pursuit of Riccardo Zandonai's Debussian rarity, Francesca da Rimini

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future