Lost Highway, English National Opera, Young Vic, London
Freiburg Baroque/Bernarda Fink, Barbican Hall, London

It's soulless va va voom, this sex on a motorbike: A David Lynch film turned opera – heaven for fans, but what about everyone else?

English National Opera's season at the Young Vic opened on a balmy gust of borrowed cool. With a guaranteed audience of David Lynch fans and a run of only six performances, Olga Neuwirth's 2003 opera Lost Highway was no loss-leader. Whether this ultra-faithful reworking of the 1997 movie had much to offer those who do not warm to Lynch's work is another matter.

Opera is not exactly short of the tormented loners, twisted brutes, hopeless dupes and frigid femme fatales that populate his films, nor is it a stranger to nihilism, noir and surrealism. Think of Lynch's version of Lost Highway and it's not the dialogue you remember, nor the narrative, nor the relationships, but the colours, the bluebottle buzz of distorted sound.

Diane Paulus's bold, slick staging had cinematic clarity. The movement was tight, the design (Riccardo Hernandez) Eighties in flavour, with a suspended Perspex cube as prison cell and luxury home. But Neuwirth's fastidious music jarred with the brash visual notes of electric blue and scarlet, the mechanistic bump and grind of the porn on the video screens, the soulless va-va-voom of sex-on-a-motorbike and sex-on-a-car, and the cynical voguing of the party guests. As in the original, neither Neuwirth nor her librettist Elfriede Jelinek solicit any sympathy for Fred (Mark Bonnar), Pete (Quirijn de Lang), Renee/ Alice (Valérie MacCarthy), or Mr Eddy/Dick Laurent (David Moss). Sooner or later, they all end up like summer pudding.

So what of the score? Shreds of Carissimi slide languidly into half-heard lines from a Broadway standard, a Purcellian dying fall, Mahleresque cadences, generic jazz riffs from trumpet and sax, a yawn of slide guitar, skeletal stirrings of percussion, a sudden conflagration of knotted, humid bass, a pregnant wash of ambivalent, green-blue chords. In appropriating other people's songs, Neuwirth is backgrounding herself, but the minutely wrought joins and merges of live and recorded sound are themselves often mesmerising and were, under conductor Baldur Brönnimann and sound-designer Markus Noisternig, immaculately dovetailed.

Less distinctive is Neuwirth's vocal writing. Much of the libretto is spoken, shouted, intoned or murmured, while the stand-out arias – or anti-arias – are Mr Eddy's snarled, whooped and lisped monologues: a bravura mash of sprechgesang, fairground barking and performance poetry. I left impressed by Paulus's stagecraft, Moss's energy and MacCarthy's figure, but perplexed by the experience of spending 90 minutes listening to a composer who seems determined to remain unheard.

Freiburg Baroque should consider a name-change. Now 20 years old, the orchestra has established an unimpeachable reputation in the Classical style – its recording of Haydn's Le Matin, Le Midi and Le Soir is sublime – but plays Bach with less verve, wit and dynamism than an ad hoc band of so-so modern strings. You know you're in trouble when the most expressive phrasing comes from the bassoon, as was the case in last weekend's Barbican recital of Geist und Seele wird verwirret (BWV 35) and Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust (BWV 170). Bernarda Fink's poised, candid, beautifully coloured singing failed to conceal a pedestrian instrumental performance. The ensemble was shaky in the cantatas and even worse in the B minor Orchestral Suite (BWV 1067). Bass-notes were uniformly short, the tempi hesitant, the gaps between movements awkward.

While Wolfgang Zerer's organ solos were prettily turned, his harpsichord playing was utterly bloodless in its brisk, regular spread chords. From strings and keyboard alike, there was no swirl, no punch, no gallanterie, no acknowledgement of the French influence on the Suite, or the Italian influence on the Sinfonia from Non sa che sia dolore (BWV 209) and the Concerto for Violin and Oboe (BWV 1060). Never has Bach sounded so provincial.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • 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.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss