Middle-Aged spread

VERDI's first opera was probably Oberto, written at the age of 26. Although that is not so very young by the standards of mid-19th-century opera composers, the score is clearly an apprentice piece, trapped in conventions passed down the line from Rossini, Donizetti and Bel-lini (who all, needless to say, used them more imaginatively). For good reasons it isn't often done. So Opera North's new production in Leeds is something out of the ordinary, the more so for having the celebrated bass John Tomlinson not only singing the title role but directing the show, his first venture into production.

Frankly, he hasn't chosen an easy vehicle for his debut. To a collector of repertory Oberto has undeniable interest: its narrative of an old man avenging his dishonoured child is the embryo of all the father/daughter relationships that dominate the laterVerdi works. On the great highway of opera roles, Oberto is a Commendatore en route to becoming a Rigoletto. But dramatically the piece is an uphill struggle, shifting from scene to scene with a mechanical awkwardness that would defeat the most experienced director. John Tomlinson's solution is simply to let his characters stand and sing - for which I'm sure they're grateful, and as a result there are some strong, and very big performances. Tomlinson himself enlarges the title role to epic dimensions; and the two principal female roles also reach a grand scale, solidly done by Linda Finnie and Rita Cullis. David Maxwell Anderson doesn't look like the seducer he is meant to be, but is engagingly robust.

All this would be fine if the performances were made to connect more. As it is, they're dangerously free-floating: you feel that Tomlinson has given them too wide a berth (and not enough to do), despite having defined the space they inhabit with a specific context not to be found in the original libretto. Verdi sets it vaguely in the Middle Ages; Tomlinson relocates it to the 1920s, in the court of some Ruritanian prince-dictator whose portrait dominates the stage and looks suspiciously like Peter Moores, the wealthy opera patron (can this be coincidence?). Russell Craig's costumes are accordingly a riot of Vogue fashion-plate fantasy, and the chorus are walking Christmas decorations. But it's a contrivance - an idea imposed on the piece rather than arising naturally from it. At the end of the day the virtue of this singer's production is that it puts the music first (in the effective hands of the Australian conductor, David Porcelijn). Plenty of Verdians will be more than content with that.

Opera productions have to live - if they live at all - through a turnover of singers, conductors and directors whose cumulative efforts can leave a healthy original looking like a badly patched-up corpse; and this was how the Graham Vick ENO production of Figaro's Wedding looked when it last "revived" at the Coliseum. But now it's back again, with yet another cast, conductor and director, and - hurrah - things have picked up. Steven Page's Figaro isn't so dangerous or rich of voice as Bryn Terfel's first time round, but it does have presence ( you can sense behind it the pedigree of all those Don Giovannis Page has tackled in the past); and Rosemary Joshua's Susanna is something special - alert, responsive, lightly inflected but with a bright, glistening quality that gives full value to the notes. Jeremy Sams's words (a one-man vindication of opera in English) dance out of the singers' mouths; and the Canadian conductor Derek Inouye gives them their due with tempi that are sometimes slow but usually convincing.

Above all, the revival has its finger on what made this Figaro so memorable before: the idea of things moving inexorably forward to the fourth act in the garden. One of the perennial difficulties with this opera is to make that fourth act feel necessary to the other three. Vick's production and Richard Hudson's sets treat the action like an onion, peeling off scenes layer by layer in a colour-coded sequence with the green of the garden always visible at the back of the stage, waiting its turn. When it comes, you find the props of the previous scenes transformed into a kind of topiary - obstacles for the characters to stumble over in their blindness. The idea of the garden as a place where unfinished business finally gets sorted, a place of healing, could hardly be made more clear.

Two big choral concerts in London this week said something about the importance of good chemistry between conductors, performers and repertory. On the face of it, the Barbican's Dream of Gerontius had the better line-up: the LSO & Chorus, Sir Colin Davies and Anne Sofie von Otter who collectively turned in a reading of quality. But Davies is a conductor with specific, if wide-ranging, strengths - Sibelius, Berlioz, Tippett, Mozart - and I'm not convinced that Elgar is among them. The same goe s for the lovely but not notably Elgarian von Otter.

Meanwhile at the Festival Hall the demoralised forces of the RPO with the Royal Choral Society did Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky. I might not have expected much of it, but for the fact that it was part of a series the RPO is running in collaboration with the Kirov Opera, and conducted by Valery Gergiev. What the playing lacked in polish it more than made up for in cinematic colour. You could see the music breaking out of the orchestral rank and file. Gergiev's curative work with the Kirov has given him the stature of a musical faith healer. If he could only do the same for the RPO, the end of the orchestra's troubles would be in sight.

`Oberto': Leeds Grand Theatre, 0113 245 9351, continues for four more performances, then tours to Nottingham, Hull, Manchester and Norwich.

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
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
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
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    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?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    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
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    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
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game