Gremlins upstaged as 'Sophie's Choice' opens to standing ovation

After a six-hour dress-rehearsal so fraught with mechanical problems that it had to be abandoned before the final scene, the world premiere of Nicholas Maw's £500,000 operatic adaptation of William Styron's controversial 1979 Holocaust novel Sophie's Choice opened to standing ovations at Covent Garden last night.

Despite technical glitches in Trevor Nunn's ambitious, multi-layered staging, the central performances of Angelika Kirchschlager and Rodney Gilfry as doomed lovers Sophie and Nathan were deemed to be among the most committed and convincing ever seen at the Royal Opera House.

Dubbed "the most significant British opera of the last 50 years" by its conductor, Sir Simon Rattle,Sophie's Choice has proved to be a surprise commercial success for Covent Garden. Demand for tickets to the first night is said to have been so high that the premiere could have sold thrice over.

But questions remain over the quality of Maw's four-act opera, which, in common with many of the last decade's operatic adaptations of pre-existing novels and films, has added less to Styron's original than it has subtracted. With three and a half hours of music, the grandiloquent pace of Maw's score is strikingly at odds with his hesitant, near-conversational vocal lines and diffident Samuel Barber-meets-Max Steiner orchestration.

Despite retaining the voice of Styron's Narrator (the excellent Dale Duesing) – an older and wiser incarnation of Stingo (Gordon Gietz), the Southern ingenu who loses his heart to Polish Catholic Auschwitz survivor, Sophie – Maw's libretto has, like Alan J Pakula's Oscar-winning film adaptation of 1982, lost much of the perceptiveness, precision and musicality of Styron's prose. Crucially, the novel's carefully-drawn parallel between Stingo's guilty legacy (that of inherited complicity with slavery) and Sophie's (an inherited complicity with Polish anti-Semitism) has gone, making "the banality of evil" a mere background to the more traditional operatic themes of female suicide, madness and erotic obsession and reducing the novel's more subtle series of moral choices to one schlocky moment.

Though Sophie's Choice set out to be the first major opera about the Holocaust, Luigi Dallapiccola's concise 1949 opera The Prisoner remains the most powerful musical response to the terrors of fascism.

Sophie's Choice plays to 21 December at the Royal Opera House (020 7304 4000), returns only. Broadcasts 10 December on BBC Radio 3 and 21 December BBC TV Four. Anna Picard's classical music review appears today on page 9 of LifeEtc.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Guru Careers: Finance Account Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Finance Account Manager with...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas