A mixture of the sublime and uninspiring p

First Night Gala Opening Royal Opera House London
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The Independent Online
THE ROYAL Opera House chairman, Sir Colin Southgate, came on stage to welcome the Queen. The House, he said, had undergone "a technical revolution". At precisely that moment his microphone failed. The House can be remarkably generous with its unintentional humour.

Sir Colin and chief fund-raiser Vivien Duffield urged others to continue to be generous, stressing the need for more money in the future.

But this was the evening to forget issues of funding and concentrate at long last on the talents on stage, in a performance broadcast live on the BBC. Sadly, the first half of the Royal Gala reopening failed to exploit those talents and the large television audience. A concert performance of necessity failed to give the emotional intensity of an opera production, and certainly did not succeed in exploiting the dramatic acting talent of Placido Domingo. His duet from Die Walkure with the excellent Wagnerian soprano Deborah Polaski was beautifully sung, but looked makeshift and failed to move or excite. It was , frankly, not one of Domingo's best loved roles.

The final scene from Fidelio was also, in concert performance, efficient but lacking drama. Surely one operatic scene in costume giving a true sense of the royal opera and the House would have better enticed a television audience to come and see the real thing. A programme composed entirely of excerpts from three German operas with no great popular favourites was also curious.

But this was an evening of forgiveness, with an audience bursting with former chief executives of the House, and in the front row of the grand tier, Baroness Thatcher, Sir Edward Heath and Norma Major almost next to each other, eyes firmly fixed on the stage.

So, in that spirit, all praise at least to the second half of the evening featuring the Royal Ballet. Here at last was a sense of occasion. It was a nice touch to start by projecting the famous archive photograph of the young princesses Elizabeth and Margaret coming to Covent Garden.

There followed a quickfire and sumptuous array of performances - the athleticism of Carlos Acosta in Le Corsaire; a genuine sexual electricity between Viviana Durante and Angel Corella in the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet; and, a thrilling highlight, the charismatic Sylvie Guillem's painfully poignant portrayal of the dying Manon, in which her limbs seemed to want to take leave of her body.

"This is the exciting place, the place to be," said the new House's architect, Jeremy Dixon. And it still could be just that, despite an opening gala which mixed moments that were sublime with moments that were uninspiring.

David Lister

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