Tamerlano, Royal Opera House, London
Don Pasquale, Sadler's Wells, London
Scoring a Century, Crescent Theatre, Birmingham
Songs of a Wayfarer, Royal Festival Hall, London

A change of cast left a Verdi audience in front of a Handel opera, and they were never going to make it to Act III of this lumpy marathon

First seen in Florence, Graham Vick's cool, contemplative production of Tamerlano would have been unlikely to feature in the current Royal Opera House season without Placido Domingo's endorsement.

When Domingo was taken ill, the company was left with a Handel opera and a Verdi audience. A 20 per cent credit note wasn't enough to keep them in their seats. By the end of the first interval, there was room to spread out. By the second, Bow Street was lined with getaway cars.

It would be simplistic to attribute Tamerlano's failure solely to Domingo's absence. While English National Opera has for the most part cracked how to handle Handel, its glitzy rival flounders in this repertoire. The thinking is 20 years out of date: adhering to a four-hour scholarly edition; casting young mezzos in castrati roles that cruelly expose the breaks in their voices; and settling for the rudiments of period-performance practice without exploring specific colours, tones and textures. Tamerlano is a battle of minds, not a magic opera or a grand romance. The tensions between Ottoman sophistication and Scythian barbarity are quickly established, and all that happens until Bajazet's death in Act III is salad dressing unless propelled by the music.

Exquisitely lit by Matthew Richardson and set by Richard Hudson in a pristine, white observatory, Vick's production clears space for this – perhaps too much space given the poor musicianship. From the first misplaced entry in the Overture, the performance of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Ivor Bolton is flaccid and unfocused, its cellos and double-basses in constant dispute, the harpsichord continuo brusque, the sweetness of the woodwind in "Vivo in te" a rare moment of calm and control.

Much like Alice Coote in Orlando, Christianne Stotijn struggles with the tessitura of the title role. But why cast a lieder singer in a role that requires a heroic counter-tenor?As Asteria, Christine Schäfer sounds wan and dry. Sara Mingardo fares better as Andronico, her contralto darkly alluring, while Kurt Streit's Bajazet, though uncharismatic, is dignified and refined. For sparkle, there's Renata Pokupic's Irene, who arrives on a cobalt blue elephant, and Vito Priante in the small role of Leone. For Handelians and Verdians alike, this was a dispiriting evening. From stage and pit, it must have been dismaying.

Fresh from taking five Handel operas on tour, English Touring Opera is in rude health. A little too rude for me, at least in some details of William Oldroyd's staging of Don Pasquale, which takes to the road this week with revivals of The Marriage of Figaro and A Midsummer Night's Dream. Do people really spray their bottoms with perfume before a date, as Keel Watson does in the title role of Donizetti's daft, heartless comedy? I never have. Perhaps I should.

Watson peaks early, "conducting" the Overture from the stage, but it's an unhappily blustery performance from a bass-baritone better suited to playing evil geniuses than buffoons with a baton. Here the evil genius is Owen Gilhooly as Don Pasquale's slimy agent, Malatesta. While the orchestra plays merrily, stylishly and sensitively under its real conductor, Dominic Wheeler, and Nicholas Sharratt croons sweetly as Ernesto, Oldroyd searches fruitlessly for pathos, pausing to gasp at the vicious slap delivered by Mary O'Sullivan's shrill, pretty Norina. May-to-September couples should avoid this show, lovesick conductors too.

Tautly scored for chamber orchestra, David Blake and Keith Warner's modern singspiel, Scoring a Century, tells the story of Ernest and Edith Jedermann (Matthew Cooper and Lucie Louvrier), two song-and-dance artistes whose improbably long lives see them tossed about by world events like a pair of socks in a tumble dryer as they journey from turn-of-the-century Trouville to the Weimar Republic, Soviet Russia, free-love California and yuppie New York, with their composer-sidekick Berthold (Henrik Lagercrantz) in tow. This is history from the little person's point of view, the dreamer whose ambitions exceed his talents, the accidental dissident.

Directed by Warner and conducted by Lionel Friend, Birmingham Conservatoire's exuberant production revealed a work that is as much a history of music as it is a history of politics, as Blake's sentimental waltzes and sassy cabaret songs cede to a series of mini-operas in the styles of Berg and Stravinsky and a Shosta- kovichian show trial. This is a terrific choice for an institution that prides itself on producing voices for music theatre and opera, and a work that should be seen at the Young Vic or the Donmar.

At the Festival Hall, Bo Skovhus's extraordinary reading of Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer with Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio had a Wozzeck-like quality of latent violence and desolation. Skovhus's voice has lost its beauty, his breathing is laboured, his upper register grainy and occluded. But this wasn't art song. It was a scena for a war veteran or a former convict, the "gleaming knife" of the third song almost painfully bright against the verdant woodwind and oily strings.

Since Jansons's appointment, Bavaria's strings have found a blend to rival the very finest, and their playing is consistently daring and specific. Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, a bitter shrug at the death of Stalin, blazed. If only they had been in Britain for more than one concert.

'Tamerlano': Royal Opera House (020-7304 4000) to 20 Mar; 'Don Pasquale': Exeter Northcott (01392 493493) from 16 Mar

Next Week:

Anna Picard heads to the Coliseum and David Alden's return to Janacek with a new Katya Kabanova

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

    Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit