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The Waste Land, Wilton's Music Hall, London

Lines of beauty worth revisiting

La boheme, Royal Opera House, London

This was to have been Piotr Beczala's night – his chance to show off his vibrant top notes and ardent timbre as the romantic lead, Rodolfo, in Puccini's La bohème. But a severe cold, causing him to sound more fuzzy than focused and dulling the gleam of his upper register, forced him to withdraw after a couple of acts.

Talent 2010: The musician, Eri Nakamura

To those of us who had seen her on stage, it came as no surprise that Eri Nakamura should make it both into the song and the orchestral finals of the 2009 Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Because this petite and lustrous soprano, born in a remote Japanese village, has an unforgettable presence. Her incarnation of the Sandman in Covent Garden's Hansel und Gretel was extraordinary, and not only because, in addition to singing, she also had to fly, and to jointly inhabit her costume with an actress playing her nether parts. Her incarnation of the First Witch in Dido a few months later – again sharing a dress with a second performer – was the wackiest thing in the show.

Album: Joyce DiDonato, Rossini: Colbran, The Muse (Virgin Classics)

If Angela Gheorghiu is the pre-eminent Puccini interpreter of her era, then Joyce DiDonato surely lays confident claim to the equivalent position regarding Rossini, a status cemented in unorthodox manner this year when, despite breaking her leg on the opening night, she completed the five-night run in The Barber Of Seville at Covent Garden.

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Observations: All hail Sir John Tomlinson, opera's king of bass

Help! – is there a bass-baritone in the house? When one of these rare beasts falls sick, as has just happened at Covent Garden, the search for a replacement becomes a nail-biter, particularly when the role is as demanding as that of King Marke in Tristan und Isolde. It just so happened that the perfect replacement was indeed in the house, just singing another role on other nights. Step forward Sir John Tomlinson, the Wotan of many critics' dreams – "magnificent", "towering", and "majestic" being the commonest epithets – and therefore the dream King Marke too. His magnificent etc performance as the Grand Inquisitor in Covent Garden's current Don Carlos will, from 29 September onwards, be complemented by this tormented royal victim.

Sir Edward Downes: Conductor celebrated as one of the finest Verdi interpreters of his generation

Edward Downes spent more than 50 years of his life at Covent Garden Opera House, as prompter, répétiteur, translater and, of course, conductor. He spent four years as the music director of Australian Opera, but returned at least once a season to Covent Garden where, in 1992, he was appointed assistant music director and principal conductor of the Royal Opera. He had been knighted the year before. He was one of the finest Verdi conductors of his generation, and in 1995 he launched an ambitious plan to perform all Verdi's operas at Covent Garden by 2001, the centenary of his death, a plan which unfortunately foundered from lack of funds. Downes's other great strengths were in Russian opera, especially Prokofiev and Shostakovich, though he did not neglect Tchaikovsky or Mussorgsky, and in 20th-century opera: he conducted several premieres and British premieres.

Elaine Padmore: 'Musicians loved Ted. He was a strong man with clear ideas'

Ted Downes had a formidable love and knowledge of opera – particularly Russian opera – and his pebbly glasses made him look like Shostakovich, who was one of Ted's great heroes. He was a huge Verdi man and was instrumental in creating the Verdi festival in London's Covent Garden in the 1990s. I remember when he and David McVicar came for the 2001 production of Rigoletto. I had to introduce them to each other and wondered how they would get on. But Ted was marvellous with younger people and very interested in their ideas, and this senior conductor and rising director got on fantastically well. The revival of this production of Rigoletto in 2005 was one of the last things Ted was able to conduct.

Eric Garrett: Bass who sang more than 70 roles in 40 years at Covent Garden

The Yorkshire-born bass Eric Garrett sang at Covent Garden for more than 40 years. His repertory of some 75 to 80 roles with the company included a great many of the noble of Brabant (Lohengrin), Flemish deputy (Don Carlos) or burgher of Calais (The King Goes Forth to France) variety, but also others of greater size, such as Donizetti's Don Pasquale, Mustafà in Rossini's L'italiana in Algerì or Kecal (The Bartered Bride). Whatever the importance of the character, he always impressed it with his own forceful personality. His strong, dark-coloured voice was equally serviceable in the comic roles which were the main staple of his repertory as in those of a more dramatic nature, such as Dansker in Billy Budd.

Observations: Giant haystacks at the House

The theatre is about illusion, but its effects can be all too real. The Victorians loved turning the stage into a lake for sea-battles in which swimmers manipulated large model ships; when Phantom opened at Her Majesty's, the theatre simply reverted to its original function as a site for spectacle.

David Lister: The pianist doth protest too much

As classical music concerts go, it was certainly out of the ordinary. The renowned Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman was about to play the final piece in his recital at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He sat silently for a moment, then turned to the audience and said he would never play again in America, as its military wanted to control the whole world.

Observations: Covent Garden chorus learn to sing for their supper

While the stars get the limelight, Covent Garden's unsung heroes are the chorus – 48 stalwarts who tread the boards night after night, rehearsing and performing for six long days each week. "It's a crazy life, but I love it," says tenor George Freeburn, who hopes to carry on until he retires at 65. Like many of his colleagues, he could have been a soloist, but life in these elite ranks is the summit of his ambition: this, he says, is the Manchester United of opera companies. But like all team work, this has its stresses, particularly since the arrival of chorus master Renato Balsadonna, a stickler for discipline whose ferocious technical demands have undeniably pushed up standards.

Joyce DiDonato/Les Talens Lyriques/Rousset, Barbican, London

When Joyce DiDonato sweeps on with tousled blonde mane and in a skimpy scarlet bodice, you know this Southern belle means business of a steamy sort. We saw her at Covent Garden as the scorned Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni: her sulphurous rage incinerated everything it touched. So when she gives a recital entitled Furore: Handel's Scenes of Madness, we know roughly what to expect.

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