Opera: Verdi Festival: Giovanna d'Arco Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

As if to stamp their considerable talents on the proceedings while the going was still good - that is, before a note had been sung, before the torpor of Temistocle Solera's libretto had set in, and before the starry maid herself had descended with bloody banner unfurled - Philip Prowse (director / designer) and Daniele Gatti (conductor) took hold of the prelude to Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco (Joan of Arc) and made of it the single most dramatic statement of the evening.

Against tensile tremolandi and the thunder of lightning-streaked fortissimi, the curtains parted to reveal Prowse's monumental "war memorial": an eyeful of stone and sculpture, man, beast and cannon frozen in "glorious" combat, the legacy of war right up to and beyond the time of the opera's composition. A heroic edifice.

But, even as the music subsided into a reassuring woodwind-led andante pastorale and the warrior maid was already a vision in our mind's eye, great swathes of silk from the floor of the monument were slipping away to reveal the carnage, the mangled bodies, the bloody stains, the awful cost of heroism and immortality. And so the opera began, and the drama effectively ended.

But we must put Verdi's fatal flaws into some kind of perspective. Already he was, if not master, then certainly a skilled exponent of expressing private passions in a public context, of concentrating the drama of the individual within the grander arena of the whole. But, in 1845, the tunes were still jauntily, rudely, popularist, and the texts - not least this one - laughable. So what to do? Pretend it's Schiller? Philip Prowse was not about to try. If you can't beat them, join them. Take the people's opera off the streets and into the theatre, make it the visual equivalent of those brassy streetwise tunes. Be operatic, parodistically, campily, operatic. Hit your principals with follow-spots, frame your audacious set-pieces in a painstaking copy of the gold-leafed Royal Opera House proscenium, make it look painterly, statuesque - fabulous. And that it did. But like the confetti that rained down through the gaudy canopies of the coronation scene, it was just so much tissue in the wind. Banners counted for more than people in this show, banners upstaged people in this show.

June Anderson's Giovanna grew so attached to hers, she fell over it at one point. What had she come as? White, blood-stained frock, golden Rossetti tresses, aimlessly tripping hither, tripping thither like a cross between Lilian Gish and Isadora Duncan in the "golden silents" version of Lucia di Lammermoor. One long mad scene. Saint or diva? Saint and diva. This lady hears voices all right, but they're all her own. Which doesn't leave the character anywhere to go but sky-high into the realms of silliness.

Vocally, Anderson is in better shape than she was on her last visit here, but it's such an unappealing sound, pained and languid in inflection, communicating little or no connection between the letter and the spirit of the coloratura. Not all the notes were quite there (pitch is a recurrent problem, despite her irritating habit of coming at them by stealth from below) - but I'd have willingly sacrificed more of the technique, such as it now is, for even a modicum of warmth and heart in the singing.

Vladimir Chernov's Giacomo (Giovanna's father) to some extent compensated with easily the most beautiful and compassionate music in the piece (early rehearsals for the paternal endearments of Traviata and Rigoletto). Chernov sings on the interest rather than the capital and, like the tenor Dennis O'Neill (as the French king, Carlo VII), he'll try the subtle, stylish (and more difficult) option even when it doesn't bring him much thanks.

Lukewarm on the vocal front, then, but piping hot in the pit, where a characteristically galvanic and articulate Gatti succeeded in putting the rhythmic spice, the fizz, the fervour and phrasal sweep back into music which is more often than not denied it. He believed, the production didn't. Which left us with window-dressing - lots of it.

n Further performances 7.30pm tomorrow and Saturday, then 2, 5 July (also broadcast live on BBC Radio 3) at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London WC2. Booking: 0171-304 4000

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

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

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
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
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.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape