Music: Well sung, but its heart was missing

Dirt, I always think, lends depth to an environment, and by that reckoning the new Royal Opera House will take a while to ease into three dimensions. For the moment, with its pristine surfaces, its new red plush, the gold-leaf just a bit too gold, and the amazing mirrored acreage of what is now called the Vilar Floral Hall (after its sponsors), it feels like the set for one of its own, classier productions. And at Wednesday's opening gala it was just that. What we saw on stage was almost marginal. The real show happened front of house, starring the great and good whose names will be forever spoken (or perhaps sung) when the story of the ROH is told.

There was Vivien Duffield, the tenacious benefactress. Michael Kaiser, the unlikely hero-rescuer and chief executive. Sir Colin Southgate, chairman of the board and scourge of smelly trainers. Mary Allen looking sadly like the ghost of Banquo. Plus a good few others who were lucky to be let in - from Michael Waldman, the TV director responsible for BBC2's The House, to Baroness Thatcher whose refusal to allow a national lottery was one reason why the Royal Opera's redevelopment took so long to get off the ground. I can't have been the only member of the audience to stop and reflect that but for her fall from grace we would none of us be here. At least, not in a brand new theatre.

And this is a brand new theatre. The auditorium and surrounding foyers may look much as they did, but everything beyond the proscenium is fresh off the design-board - which is something to be borne in mind when it comes to critical appraisal of these opening celebrations. Brand new theatres never work as you expect. If you remember the portentous opening of the Bastille Opera in Paris, you might also remember that the next thing it did was close down. For breathing space. The ROH has, by comparison, been bravely - OK, crazily - ambitious to assume that it can pull together its opera and ballet companies after months of inactivity, march them into virgin premises, and have a season instantly to hand. Hence the cancellation of Le Grand Macabre, which was to have been the second production in the new house. And hence the lopsided nature of this gala, which gave a big, nostalgic, sentimental sell to the ballet in the second half but badly undersold the opera in the first.

The logic of what happened in that first half was impeccably egalitarian. It gave everyone his moment, starting with the orchestra in a Weber overture. Then a touch of international glamour, with Domingo and Deborah Polaski reliving the vocal triumph of the Royal Opera's recent Ring cycles. Finally, a spotlight on the chorus and some trusty company principals (Robert Lloyd, Roderick Earle, Timothy Robinson) in the closing scene from Fidelio. It all ran with the orchestra raised up to platform level, courtesy of new, state-of-the-art pit machinery. And when the band sank back into the pit during the interval, it proved that the machinery works. What more could you have asked for?

In fact, you could have asked for something other than a stand-and-sing performance. This was a just a concert: no attempt at theatre - which is, after all, what opera is about. It wasn't terribly exciting. And although the solid German repertory told you something about Bernard Haitink, the Royal Opera's beloved but broadly Germanophile music director, it hardly represented the spread of work that major companies have to tackle. Some Italian music - and perhaps some English - would have made the point.

But that said, it's not hard to understand why Haitink pruned back the opera element in this gala. He does, after all, have the serious business of a big new production - Falstaff - opening tomorrow. And against that, what's a gala? Pure frivolity. It's also understandable that ballet should have taken precedence, because this new house is even more of a godsend to dancers than singers. For years dancers have had to rehearse in west London and travel back and forth. Now, at last, they have facilities on site.

So, we were there to celebrate a building, and we did. With style and optimism. We were also there to celebrate a change of culture: a great learning from the purgative experience of the past two years. When the house closed down with a not dissimilar gala in 1997, it was a shabby- grand affair: like an elderly dowager taking leave with the all the dignity she could muster, but her lipstick smudged and her knickers showing through the ballgown. The new house has arrived like a cover model, stunningly coutured and smiling. All she has to do now is perform. MW

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • 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: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'