Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/ European Opera Centre/ Petrenko, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
BBC Philharmonic/Noseda, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Royal Opera House, London

Lighting-up time in Liverpool and a warm tribute to Hickox

'Ne pas fumer! No fumar! Vietato fumare! Nicht rauchen! Few visitors to Liverpool's Philharmonic Hall last Saturday could have failed to notice the on-stage health warnings in Bernard Rozet's European Opera Centre staging of Il segreto di Susanna or to smile wryly as they were flipped over to reveal anti-alcohol notices before the interval.

Thickly perfumed as rose-scented tobacco, indolent and inconsequential, Wolf-Ferrari's one-act opera is a potent advertisement for the heartless and tenacious vamp, Lady Nicotine.

First of two one-acters on the subject of marital duplicity, Il segreto was written in an age when family doctors would recommend a cigarette to calm the nerves. Scored in the fashion of Strauss imitating Puccini imitating Boccherini, with a sly wink towards Debussy, some thunderous Verdian bluster for the jealous male lead, and an ingenious use of Beethoven's Fifth as a musical custard pie, Wolf-Ferrari's music is as seductive as Enrico Golisciani's libretto is spry. Count Gil (Marc Canturri) is the insecure Italian stallion who, upon catching the odour of Turkish cigarettes in his smoke-free palazzo, suspects his new wife, Susanna (Dora Rodrigues), of having an affair.

Deftly choreographed by Rozet, with little more than an umbrella and a cigarette holder for props, this addictive entertainment was as much a showcase for Vasily Petrenko and the Liverpool Phil as it was for Canturri's incisive, handsome baritone, Rodrigues's smooth, well-focused soprano, and Loïc Varraut's neat, Begnini-esque physical comedy as the silent servant. Petrenko has had an extraordinary impact on this orchestra and conducts with authority and elan. Dusted with celesta and piccolo, Susanna's aria "Oh gioia la nube leggera" was a curlicued confection; the final duet, in which Gil and Susanna resolve to make smoking a mutual habit, a delicious musical granita.

If Il segreto had the smoke, Offenbach's Un mari à la porte provided the mirrors. Difficult to say whether doubling the cast to one singer and one actor per role was a pragmatic means of addressing the spoken dialogue or the result of a European directive, but Rozet's split-screen treatment had enough zest to compensate for any confusion. Best known for Rosita's waltz-song "J'entends, ma belle, la ritournelle", Un mari is a slighter piece than Il segreto but no less sympathetic to human frailty, in this instance, that of a debtor and a debt collector. As Rosita, Gabrielle Philiponet's coloratura was exquisite, while as Suzanne, Anaïk Morel's plum-dark mezzo revealed a rich and easy top. Canturri and Stéphane Malbec-Garcia gave elegant support as Martel and Florestan. Actors Varraut, Vincent Dedienne, Caroline Garnier and Mélanie Le Moine kept the quips coming, while Petrenko delivered a crisp, subtle and stylish orchestral performance. Debt, and smoking, have never sounded so delightful.

At the Bridgewater Hall, Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic gave a powerful reading of Rachmaninov's The Miserly Knight, which, for all its merits in terms of structure and scene-painting, is more blatantly anti-Semitic than Wagner's crude caricatures. The best that can be said about Pushkin's miserablist story of greed and debt is that two of the three goyim are just as unpleasant as the Moneylender (Peter Bronder) who refuses to extend further credit to the spendthrift Albert (Misha Didyk). Noseda's musicality and technique are stunning, but pairing this opera-nasty with Rachmaninov's other problem child, the Symphony No 1, shows dubious taste. That the Moneylender is the only character to be accompanied by an insinuating, nagging oboe makes it hard to concur with the statement that Rachmaninov was not a bigot, and concert performances afford little opportunity for artists to critique the work they perform.

The opening night of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann was dedicated to Richard Hickox, who died suddenly last weekend. That Rolando Villazón's heartbroken, wise-cracking, wine-steeped Hoffmann had an extra layer of sadness this time was hardly surprising: Hickox had conducted the last revival of John Schlesinger's 1980 production, four years ago, when Villazó*made his triumphant Covent Garden debut. It was a sweet performance of a much-loved, tender work and will be but one of many such tributes.

'Les Contes d'Hoffmann': ROH (020- 7304 4000) to 13 Dec

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

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.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all