Un ballo in maschera, Opera Holland Park, London
Proms 5 & 6, Royal Albert Hall, London
Orpheus and Euridice, Blackheath Halls, London

A scandal rocks Washington in Verdi's drama of politics and betrayal - but one bold addition in Martin Lloyd-Evans's production doesn't smack of the truth

How can something that feels so right be so wrong? From Tristan to Il tabarro, this is a question frequently explored in opera. Take Un ballo in maschera, set by Verdi in 18th-century Sweden, relocated to 17th-century Boston by Neapolitan censors, and staged in 21st-century Washington by Martin Lloyd-Evans. Here is a drama of politics, fidelity and betrayal in which loyal Renato's wife Amelia is so desperate to dispel the love she feels for Gustavo that she takes a drug prescribed by a fortune-teller. Now listen to the score and hear that intoxicating, irresistible shudder of strings and woodwind in "Oh, qual soave brivido": a sound hitherto unprecedented in this highly disciplined score. What can account for that? Smack, that's what.

Familiar images from film and television work in Lloyd-Evans's favour in Act I's immaculately choreographed traffic of White House catering staff, cleaners, speech-writers, flower-arrangers and security personnel, setting the scene for the masked ball of the title against designer Jamie Vartan's translucent Stars and Stripes. As Gustavo, the voiceless Rafael Rojas (David Rendall sang from the pit on the first night) has the heavy-set, easy charm of Bill Clinton, while Gail Pearson plays her skirt-suited Oscar as a perky aide. Renato (Olafur Sigurdarson) is a heavily-decorated General, Ulrica (Carole Wilson) a sequinned charlatan in a television studio. Where Lloyd-Evans comes undone is when he replaces The West Wing with The Wire. As a motif for the sudden deliquescence of Verdi's orchestration in Act II, having your heroine inject heroin is an interesting idea. Unfortunately, it undermines the logic of the following acts.

Since Amelia's humiliation is compounded by being filmed, stoned and swooning, on the conspirators' mobile phones, Renato's motives for joining their plot are muddled. Compared to a drugs scandal, an unrealised affair with the president is small beans.

Despite these inconsistencies, individual characterisations are persuasive. Broken and betrayed, a good man turned bad, Sigurdarson has a burning integrity that compensates for vocal roughness. As Amelia, Amanda Echalaz abandons herself to Verdi's soaring phrases of shame and desire but is most affecting while mutely recoiling at the kidnap of her son (Gianluca Volpe) by Horn (Simon Wilding) as Bugs Bunny silently capers on the screen in the background. In the pit, Peter Robinson keeps the City of London Sinfonia at a steady boil, with some lovely phrasing from the woodwind and an attractively oily cimbasso in the brass. There are some startlingly bold and imaginative theatrical details but realism is not something to toy with. As to the drugs, both Amelia and Lloyd-Evans should have said "No".

Little more than a week after the first blast of Stravinsky's Fireworks (Prom 1), the BBC Proms is part of everyday life. I've cooked to The Creation (Prom 2), ironed to Partenope (Prom 3), cleaned to the Eton Choirbook (PCM1) and cooked again while Listen(ing) Again to The Fairy Queen (Prom 7). Even accompanied by a hissing iron or a bubbling risotto, the sound is usually clearer than it is in situ, and there is something very special about this private yet communal listening experience. But I doubt a radio could have captured the acoustical effect of a packed audience barely daring to breathe during Bernard Haitink's performance of Mahler's Ninth Symphony with the London Symphony Orchestra (Prom 5). Now frail, Haitink seems more than ever to close in on himself when conducting late Mahler, barely moving his baton. Though the Ländler and Rondo-Burleske lacked bite, the architecture of the first and last movements was exquisite, understated, elegaic. The same night's pairing of the 1796 choral version of Haydn's Seven Last Words with James MacMillan's Seven Last Words (Prom 6) saw some beautifully measured musicianship from Manchester Camerata and the BBC Singers under Douglas Boyd, though the consonants were lost to an almost empty hall. Il terremoto excepted, the contrast between Haydn's unshowy solemnity and MacMillan's cinematic effects – variously luminous, pure and static, or unnervingly violent in rasping whispers and swarming strings – was fascinating. If Hollywood hasn't knocked on MacMillan's door, it should.

There's barely space to mention Blackheath Halls production of Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice, but Elaine Tyler Hall's staging of this community project was so perceptive I have to squeeze it in. With Aaron Marsden and Marc Rosette's austere, evocative stage and lighting designs, a central performance of exceptional pathos from Wendy Dawn Thompson (Orpheus), a robust reading of the score from the amateur orchestra and chorus under Leigh O'Hara, and fabulous choregraphy from Stella Howard and the Laban Youth Dance Company, this was powerful stuff. You don't go to an amateur show for perfect tuning and perfect attack. But, Mariachi trumpets notwithstanding, Blackheath had the measure of Gluck's matchless concentrate of mourning and redemption.

'Un ballo in maschera' (0845 230 9769) to Aug 8

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

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

Review: The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week

Comedy...to show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
TV
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Arts and Entertainment
Bryan Cranston will play federal agent Robert Mazur in The Infiltrator

Books
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.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin