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

Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

books
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Bell in the new BBC series Posh People: Inside Tatler

Review: Posh journalists just can't get enough of each other

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
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
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
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.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital
    In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

    Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

    Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
    The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

    The young are the new poor

    Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty