Simon Boccanegra, Coliseum, London
Tristan und Isolde, Grange Park Opera, Hampshire
Don Pasquale, Opera Holland Park, London
Il Turco in Italia, Garsington Opera, Buckinghamshire

Garsington and Holland Park plump for a British seaside resort and the Med, but the forecast is rather gloomy

Poetry and perversity merge in Dmitri Tcherniakov's ENO production of Simon Boccanegra. The director is more interested in the motives behind Verdi's most austere opera than the means.

For swords, expect guns. For poison, a paper hat. Led by Bruno Caproni's weary, bespectacled Boccanegra, the war between plebeians and patricians is fought in a matt-grey meeting room. The only colour comes from "the ancient insult" of the Prologue, its brawling chaos shrunk to a small painting in Act I but vast and alive in Boccanegra's Act II dreams.

Pirate or bureaucrat, Boccanegra is already a dying man, tied to his oldest enemy, Brindley Sherratt's Fiesco, by the death of his lover, Fiesco's daughter, Maria. Prologue aside, incident is almost incidental to Tcherniakov's production, the recognition scene between Boccanegra and his daughter Amelia (Rena Harms) distracted and sad, drugged by grief. The suggestion that their relationship might be wishful thinking makes little difference: he needs a daughter, she a father.

Long silences divide each scene. Together with conductor Edward Gardiner, whose reading of the score produces the most refined playing I have heard from the ENO orchestra, Tcherniakov clears space for the curses and confrontations while steering a steady path to Boccanegra's final encounter with Fiesco. Within the meditative whole, there is an astonishing range of physicality, charismatic benedictions, violent embraces, the stumble of guilt from Roland Wood's Paolo, the chair-throwing tantrum of Peter Auty's Adorno, and the intent stillness of Sherratt's Fiesco.

Vocally, the men dominate, purposeful and engaged where Harms buckles girlishly, her top notes glassy, her middle-range brittle. A few forced rhymes aside, James Fenton's translation is clean and expressive. Some will baulk at the neologisms, the contrapuntal pulse of hazard lights from Paolo's car, the audacity of Gelb Filshtinsky's lighting and Finn Ross's video projection, the severity of Tcherniakov's set, the paper hat. But for unanymity and clarity of purpose from cast, orchestra, conductor and director, this is an astonishing production.

Grange Park Opera's first foray into Wagner is slow to bloom. David Fielding's production of Tristan und Isolde opens in an aircraft carrier, with military coffins under Cornish flags. As the love-potion takes hold, trappings of war and power fade. Isolde's Act II bedchamber opens to reveal an en suite forest, beautifully lit by Wolfgang Goebbel, while Tristan dies in an old beach house. Memories and dreams collide as Richard Berkeley-Steele's hero fades in and out of consciousness, his boyhood hopes and sorrows shown in a tableau of the would-be adventurer, his warrior father and elfin mother.

At times the stage is overcrowded – a giant skull, goblet and knife intrude on the Act II duet – yet the lovers' characters are skilfully developed and the Liebestod is touchingly staged. Both Berkeley-Steele and his Isolde, Alwyn Mellor, have the emotional and vocal stamina for their roles, while Sara Fulgoni and Stephen Gadd offer vivid support as Brangäne and Kurwenal. It's less convincing in the pit, where conductor Stephen Barlow draws a sluggish, fitful performance from an overstretched English Chamber Orchestra.

Pool the resources for Garsington Opera's Il Turco in Italia and Opera Holland Park's Don Pasquale, and you might have the perfect bel canto comedy. Rossini's skit on marital boredom and Donizetti's slap-happy savings swindle share a loutish contempt for the elderly, heroines of startling selfishness, and testing tenor serenades. As things stand, Garsington has the perfect minx in Rebecca Nelsen's Fiorilla, while OHP has the perfect tenor in Colin Lee's Ernesto. But while David Parry's Rossini has zest and drive, Richard Bonynge's Donizetti is a limp lettuce leaf, tossed away with the polystyrene take-away boxes from Don Pasquale's Casa del Fish'n'Chips.

With an eye to the changeable weather, director Stephen Barlow has set Donizetti's opera in a British seaside resort on the cusp of regeneration. Joggers and same-sex couples with designer baby-strollers pass by, though few of them linger on the grey and windy pebble beach. Donald Maxwell's Don makes his first appearance on a mobility scooter: mutton to the slaughter as Richard Burkhard's suave Malatesta sets the trap. The incidental comedy is well-observed, the design (Colin Richmond) as sharp as a photograph by Martin Parr. Yet Majella Cullagh's Norina lacks charm to offset her coarseness. Lee's exquisite serenade seems misplaced in this bleak reading of an already black comedy. As to Norina's revamped café, styled after Carluccio's, I give it six months.

Back at Garsington in the touristic sunshine of Francis O'Connor's 1950s Naples set, Nelsen's Fiorilla steals the show. Too hot for Geoffrey Dolton's twitchy Geronio to handle, hers is a small but sparkling voice, flexible, vivacious and with plenty of ping. Quirijn de Lang's Selim smoulders affably through Martin Duncan's dizzy staging, though Victoria Simmonds' Zaida lacks bite and the movement has an end-of-the-pier quality. As the diegetic Poet, Mark Stone is saddled with the thankless task of telling us how funny everything is, while David Alegret's Don Narciso is uncomfortably compressed. The Act II quintet is delicious. Elsewhere, Parry's conducting and first-rate fortepiano continuo provides fizz, if not the warmth of the Mediterranean.

'Simon Boccanegra' (0871 911 0200) to 9 Jul; 'Tristan und Isolde' (01962 737366) to 3 Jul; 'Don Pasquale' (0300 999 1000) to 24 Jun; 'Il Turco in Italia' (01865 361636) to 3 Jul; 'Don Pasquale' (0300 999 1000) to 24 Jun.

Next Week:

Anna Picard makes friends with L'amico Fritz at Opera Holland Park

Classical Choice

Grange Park Opera revives Antony McDonald's spell-binding production of Rusalka, with Anne-Sophie Duprels in the title role, at Grange Park, in Hampshire, from Wed. Also Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and The Opera Group premiere Luke Bedford's Seven Angels at CBSO Centre, Birmingham (Tue & Wed, then touring).

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?