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

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor