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 The thinking is 20 years out of date: adhering to a four-hour scholarly edition; casting young mezzos in castrati roles that cruelly expose the breaks in their voices; and settling for the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

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
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.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions