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 The thinking is 20 years out of date: adhering to a four-hour scholarly edition; casting young mezzos in castrati roles that cruelly expose the breaks in their voices; and settling for the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
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week