Thursday, October 29, 2020

Bridging personal storytelling and cultural interconnectedness, Kate Kelly comes to the Yarra Valley Opera Festival: Limelight Review

Published online at Limelight Magazine 26th October 2020

If there were one thing to celebrate on Saturday’s World Opera Day 2020, it would be the opportunities companies have in taking advantage of online platforms. When it appears so many opera companies worldwide are functioning (or not) on survival mode, others are responding in creative ways to circumvent varying imposed restrictions. One such small Victorian player, Gertrude Opera, has taken a giant leap in presenting their 10-day Yarra Valley Opera Festival entirely online and marking Saturday with an easily ensnaring and multifaceted work.

Emily Burke as Kate Kelly
Kate Kelly was co-created by author Merrill Findlay and composer Ross James Carey, and illustrates the story of Kate Kelly, second youngest sister of Australia’s infamous bushranger icon, Ned Kelly.

Born in 1863 in Beveridge Victoria into a large Irish Catholic family and baptised Catherine Ada Kelly, Kate’s enigmatic story exemplifies a woman’s struggle against a lack of liberty, respect, choice and, worse, consequential and commonplace, unpunishable domestic abuse. She had gained notoriety as a horseback performer soon after Ned was hanged at Melbourne Gaol in 1880. For unknown reasons, she escaped the limelight and eventually resurfaced in New South Wales where she worked as a domestic servant in Forbes, fell pregnant to William “Bricky” Foster, married him and continued increasing the family. And then, now known as Ada Foster, she disappeared again. A week later, at the age of 36, her body was found in Forbes Lake.

Findlay and Carey’s current 50-minute work featuring soprano, baritone, tenor and small ensemble was originally written for one soprano voice when it premiered as The Kate Kelly Song Cycle in Forbes in 2011 at the inaugural Kalari-Lachlan River Arts Festival. It’s an alluring and evocative piece blending history, myth and circumstance; a work that cleverly bridges personal storytelling and cultural interconnectedness.

Findlay’s story is embroidered with sensitivity on a deceptively rich and sprawling canvas with its three identities contemplating events from a perspective seemingly beyond its time. Carey’s music – written for violin, cello, clarinet and accordion –responds marvellously, both in expressing context and poignancy without employing gimmick. Created in the current context of isolation, the production is incisively directed by Gertrude Opera Artistic Director Linda Thompson and employs the work of cinematographers from three states: Anna Cadden (Tasmania), Tiana Koutsis (Victoria) and Ehran Edwards (NSW). Each of the three soloists, performing in three different locations, are dressed in black as if presented as spirits of their characters in order to convey and confess their thoughts in a modern day life. And it fits the bill nicely.

The five-part work begins with Bricky’s Sorry Song, an ebbing and mournful ballad to which baritone Andrew Moran gives brawny weight and sorrowful depth. Sitting in a pub alone with a beer in hand, Bricky is stricken by remorse for the physical and psychological mistreatment he inflicted on his wife. “I bashed the woman I cherished”, he laments but declares he never killed her. Looking back, this is indeed a man who desperately wants to change; a modern man who has every possibility to act on it.

Within a verdant bush setting as Kate, fierce and commanding soprano Emily Burke introduces her audience to the galloping tempo of Ghosts of Glenrowan in a haunting and frenetically spun recollection of her past. Burke – well-remembered for her impressive display as the iron-fisted Aunt Lydia from the festival’s 2019 Australian premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale – infuses a profound pathos and disturbing anxiousness in her performance that reflects Kate’s trauma, acknowledged by Findlay’s text. Conspicuously, despite the abstract suggestion of Bricky’s dubious behaviour, she never points the finger, in a sign perhaps that, with the luxury of looking back, no woman should ever blame herself for another’s crime.

The third part belongs to Chinese shopkeeper Quong Lee who reminisces on his acquaintance with Kate and her children in The Harvest Moon in Spring. It’s a texturally rich and flavoursome song brought to life by the powerful and soaring tenor of Michael Lapiña – as well as the colours of Melbourne’s Little Bourke Street Chinatown – and captures the idea how stories and legends influence our culture and behaviour.

In the fourth song, Burke sings Kate’s beautiful and emotionally entwined Poor Irish and Wiradjuri with magnetism and gravitas, outlining a resemblance between her mother Ellen and Indigenous local Ellen Googoolin (Yellow Belly Woman) two women “fighting against the odds”. Set in a cemetery, Burke picks the rambling capeweed, makes a daisy chain and hangs it across a grave in a symbolic nod honouring our ancestors and influencers, and recognising humanity among all. Alone and at the edge of a lake, Kate’s imminent departure from life is depicted in the fifth and final I Heard the Banshee Cry, framed by the superstition of looking into a banshee’s eyes and being dragged down into a bog. It opens and concludes with harrowing discordance and contains a short-lived jaunty and jazzy optimism with Burke at her immersive best.

The four unseen musicians – Thibauld Pavlovic-Hobbs (violin), Zoe Knighton (cello), Brendan Toohey (clarinet) and Patrick Burns (accordion) – play a rapturous and expert treat.

There are, however, a couple quibbles that came to mind. Just occasionally, the text could be better economised to fuse with the musical phrasing and I also wondered if there was a thought to giving Ellen Googoolin a voice. Still, Kate Kelly is one of those works as complex as you wish to make it. It sails forward satisfyingly and, as art so spectacularly does, invites curiosity.

Coming to a close, Gertrude Opera has achieved much in bringing the 2020 Yarra Valley Opera Festival to its scattered online audience. And there’s every chance that when the festival returns to the beauty of its surroundings, there will be benefits to reap from this experience.

Kate Kelly

Gertrude Opera, Yarra Valley Opera Festival

24th October 2020

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

A one-on-one performance of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte via the telephone as part of the Yarra Valley Opera Festival: Limelight Review

Published online at Limelight Magazine, 19th October 2020

It started as an energetic day in Melbourne on Sunday. I swam at my local pool at the pre-booked time, I cycled within my permitted 5km radius (around and around a free-for-all local outdoor velodrome) and I walked to the shops to pick up a few groceries – masked, sanitised and abiding by the Victorian Government’s rules. But front of mind was a 5pm phone call I was waiting for eagerly, albeit a tad nervously, from my beloved. They called, we spoke and they sang to me Beethoven’s beautiful song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved).

Digital etching by artist Jess Reddi-Coronell
2020 marks the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in December 1770 and celebrations have obviously taken a hit. Mitigating the damage, New York-based On Site Opera conceived what was billed as “the world’s first telephone-based opera experience”, in which a personal one-on-one performance of Beethoven’s song cycle is shared over the phone. With good fortune, lines are currently open to encounter its pleasures courtesy of Gertrude Opera’s Yarra Valley Opera Festival running until 25 October.

A few days prior to the call, an email arrived, beginning, “My Love, I miss you terribly”. On the next day, another: “I’m counting the minutes until I can hear your voice again.” The sender wasn’t suspicious though at any other time, I would have tossed this kind of email in with the junk.

I did my homework and studied the attached text, an evocatively flowing piece by Austrian writer and physician Alois Jeitteles written in 1815 when he was 21, translated here from German to English. Beethoven set it to music the following year in a six-part through-composed work; the music capacious, intimate and tender in its subtly varying moods. The work explores feelings of the deepest longing by a subject separated from their beloved by a great distance. A magnificent picture of nature is invoked and referenced as a carrier of its message of love. Its sentiments certainly resonate this year and it is a decadence so many would enjoy.

Young Melbourne-based baritone Daniel Felton was ‘my beloved’ and, after some initial clumsiness on my part, the conversation felt as though we had sort of picked up where we last left off. Daniel was polite and cheerful and asked if he could sing to me. And when he did, his warm and soothing baritone was a delight to covet. He asked if I had the text in front of me to follow. I did but how completely unnecessary! The first email informed me that ‘my beloved’ would be singing in German but Daniel sang the English text with sparkling clarity.

Not so the sound quality; the pre-recorded piano accompaniment sounded like it was drowning in water. Daniel’s vocal reproduction occasionally crackled too, especially at the top notes. Was I bothered? Not at all! Within no time, it was as if I was listening to an old gramophone recording, which only added to the sense of separation by time. And it uniquely belonged to me.

Three other artists – soprano Bethany Hill, tenor Joshua Oxley and baritone Darcy Carroll – are also at your service to sing to you in a one-on-one performance. What kind of experience others will have makes me curious.

Later, I looked across the treetops towards the city and wondered where my beloved could be. I felt a tad disappointed in myself because I could have tried harder. I wanted to know more. Where exactly was my beloved? Were they sitting of standing? What had they been doing all this time? But they swept me away in the moment and I’m afraid I may never hear their voice across the phone again.

To My Distant Love

Gertrude Opera

Yarra Valley Opera Festival


David Lang's love fail in its Australian premiere at the Yarra Valley Opera Festival: Limelight Review

Published online at Limelight Magazine, 18th October 2020

The casualties in the arts during the COVID-19 crisis have been horrific. After cancellation upon cancellation of the year’s performance calendar, it is gratifying, however, to see Melbourne-based Gertrude Opera’s 2020 Yarra Valley Opera Festival survive the devastation wreaked by the pandemic. While much bigger companies around the country are grappling with our new state of living, Gertrude Opera’s CEO/Artistic Director Linda Thompson has worked around restrictions and invested in a 10-day online program of events. For its audience, rather than hoping disruptions won’t interfere with getting to a theatre, one hopes technical glitches won’t cause similar distress. None so far!

A high-calibre Gala at Home opened the festival on Friday evening and on Saturday evening, Pulitzer Prize winning American composer David Lang’s love fail made its Australian premiere, a work inspired by the oft retold tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde.

Charlotte Simcock as Lizzie and John Landis as Tristan
It’s not the first time Gertrude Opera has premiered Lang’s work. In the company’s inaugural 2015 festival, located in the central Victorian region of Nagambie Lakes, the difficulty of crossing a field (2002) introduced many to Lang’s atmospheric and hauntingly sung composition set in segregated slave-era Alabama. It was directed by American Luke Leonard, founding Director of New York-based theatre company Monk Parrots. Once again, Leonard brings his sophisticated and thought-provoking style to love fail in a visually powerful and musically pulsating collaboration between the two companies.

Lang’s work is divided into 12 parts, each a kind of meditation on various interpretations of Tristan and Isolde’s story. Executed by four female voices and augmented with minimal percussion, Lang employs the centuries-old tradition of a cappella in something of a non-narrative chamber opera. With voices alone creating the music to engage, text shares the podium in opening a window to the complexities of love and the ripples it creates. Drawing on stories by Gottfried von Strassburg, Richard Wagner, Sir Thomas Malory, Marie de France and contemporary American writer Lydia Davis, among others, Lang creates a varied portrait of love’s moods ranging from heart-wrenching to momentarily amusing.

Both as director and designer, Leonard has cleverly distilled a sense of the abstract and surreal, coupled with stunning imagery and wordless acting within the context of a symbolically appropriate remote and fertile rural property and its surrounds. And to this end, Leonard’s handling of love fail turns an a cappella chamber opera into a poignant short film. Almost 50 minutes in duration, the cinematic craftsmanship is high, the light and textures gleam, and the editing is fine-tuned to Lang’s superb use of intervals and silence. Perhaps not as Lang would have imagined it, this is art that responds to the times we are living in and Leonard’s style shows a beguiling affinity to Lang’s compositional landscape.

In Lang’s first part, he was and she was, Leonard introduces his five actors; Josh Landis as a handsome and introspective Tristan, Gates Leonard as a mysterious, goddess-like Isolde, Charlotte Simcock as Tristan’s forlorn and weary spouse Lizzie, and Amelia and Oscar Landis as the children. Only the children behave with animated freedom, their innocence tested by a love triangle that plays out between their father, mother and the ‘other’ woman.

Symbolism and reference are incorporated artistically; the crossbow of a warrior, the stick Tristan leaves behind for Isolde to find according to Marie de France’s version, pills dropped into glasses of wine as the potion for Tristan and Isolde to drink. A montage of fire burns across a field where the three stand in a triangle in the tenth part, "I live in pain". In A different man, an erect zucchini and two melons arranged on the kitchen table between an un-communicative Tristan and his spouse speak tellingly of sexual frustration and lack of desire. It’s a scene later played out in "forbidden subjects", a particularly thorny but witty description of cycling through subjects avoided and the possibility of their gradual revival. Love without sorrows is not an earthly given.

The singers – soprano Amelia Jones, mezzo-sopranos Heather Fletcher and Belinda Paterson, and contralto Alexandra Amerides – are exceptional in their ability to soar and stretch divinely through the many overlapping layers of Lang’s score. That they remain unseen rather defies what one might want of opera in performance but it opens a door to a new experiences and Leonard takes you deftly along with it.

The one thing missing was the use of subtitles, which would have assisted enormously in alleviating the extra concentration required to grasp all the text when it is so inextricably at one with the music. In a post-performance Zoom chat, Thompson was right to say subtitles were preferred – only budgetary constraints prevented their adoption it appears. As it is, the work is potent and streamlined and, for all its heritage, breathes with a fantastic contemporary exploration of and reflection on love.

love fail

Gertrude Opera and Monk Parrots

Yarra Valley Opera Festival


Friday, October 16, 2020

Gertrude Opera's Yarra Valley Opera Festival launches online with a high calibre Gala at Home

Who else had the pleasure of attending Gertrude Opera’s Gala at Home as part of this year’s Yarra Valley Opera Festival? In a spiffily arranged show hosted by artistic director Linda Thompson and music director Brian Castles-Onion, great delights of operatic voice shone through in which togetherness and connection felt palpable despite separation brought about by restrictions and lockdowns. It indeed succeeds as a rejuvenating antidote.

The gala begins brilliantly in London with Zoe Drummond’s pure, crystalline and poised rendition of “Come, now a roundel” from Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Then, richness of sound and deep reserves of feeling are evidenced in mezzo soprano Na’ama Goldman’s "Mon cœur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Saint-Saëns's Samson and Delilah. The calibre remains high.

From Nanjing, Yang Luo is an impressive and passionate Verdian Don Carlo with “Io la vidi, al suo sorriso” and Ashlyn Tymms sings Carmen’s “Habanera” with love written all over it. Accompanied by cello in her Dresden apartment (spot the electric jug on the dresser), soprano Jessica Harper structures a beautifully inquiring perspective to Caccini’s “Amarilli, mia bella”. A dignified Sam Roberts-Smith sings Cardillo’s “Core ngrato” with ample baritone warmth and, from Florida, tenor Leo Williams takes a Gounod operatic rarity, “Source délicieuse” from Polyeucte, and imbues it with reverberant strength in his own creative video clip. 

Closing Act 1, beauty, grace and vitality accompany an endearing pair, soprano Stacey Alleaume in Melbourne and mezzo Sophie Yelland in Cardiff, in Gounod’s delectably flowing “D’un coeur qui t’aime”. 

Time for a 20 minute interval to pour yourself a drink! And adjust the cushions on the sofa.

Then, a lush, dynamic and confident Naomi Flatman launches Act 2 from Brisbane with R. Strauss’ “Sein wir wieder gut” from Der Rosenkavalier. Enrique Guzmán demonstrates dexterity in a robust and perilous bel canto display of Semiramide’s “Ah, dov'è il cimento" from Mexico City and, from Melbourne, cavernous and colourful Chinese baritone NuoLin OuYang stops you in your tracks with Mozart’s “Hai gia vinta la causa!” from The Marriage of Figaro.

From Douglas Lilburn’s setting of six poems from New Zealand poet Denis Glover's sequence, Sings Harry, tenor Harry Grigg’s crisp and youthful tenor resonates warmly from London with “I remember”. Elegance and heart are in big supply with Alexandra Lidgerwood’s “Giunse il fin il momento ...” from The Marriage of Figaro and a tear or two welled during John Marcus Bindel’s quite monumental “Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha.

The stunner of the evening, and under the spell of her character, was layer-rich mezzo  Sarah Heltzel’s highly entertaining and expressive “Perfect as we are” from Adamo’s Little Women. And the night ended on another high in San Francisco with molten bass baritone Hadleigh Adams’ hugely touching “Our very own home” from Gregory Spears’ 2016 opera, Fellow Travellers, based on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel. 

In all, the artists’ preparedness, commitment and execution are particularly apparent. The show bodes well for the week ahead. Kudos to Gertrude Opera for investing in and creatively presenting opera and, gratefully, for sharing their passion.

Gala at Home

Yarra Valley Opera Festival - Gertrude Opera 

Saturday, 16th October 2020 and online.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Parsifal: Metropolitan Opera On Demand

Richard Wagner
Metropolitan Opera On Demand
Performance Date: 2nd March, 2013
#CoronaCouchOpera, Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn
11th April, 2020


If you’re looking for something more profound to add to the Easter eggs and hot cross buns to celebrate the Easter weekend but don’t quite see yourself switching onto one of the many streamed masses to mark Christ’s death and resurrection, you could consider turning to opera. The latest Met Opera free nightly opera steam is Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. Based on a Medieval story concerning the wandering fool Parsifal who is destined to become the saviour of the Grail Knights, Wagner’s final, epic work champions humility, compassion and enlightenment. We need those qualities now, as always, and God knows we have the time like never before to mull over and soak us in its sublimity.

Parsifal demands more than four hours of time but when the overture begins, it’s a music that initiates its erasure and beckons a landscape of tranquility and hope within a spiritual-like realm. In the pit, Italian Conductor Daniele Gatti conveys that spirituality with great sensitivity with various tempi leaning toward an unhurried yet malleable nature.

In French-Canadian director François Girard’s barren and gloomy production which premiered in 2013, scenes of forests and meadows, castles and wondrous gardens which Wagner’s libretto refers to are nowhere in sight. From the start, Girard sets about establishing a ritualistic tone. Movements are as restrained as the dramatic momentum. Girard’s knights are uniformed in contemporary-styled black trousers and white shirts, the flower maidens who attempt to seduce Parsifal are a sway of flimsy white fabric while the temptress, Kundry, is a bedraggled gypsy. And there’s blood, lots of it, including a pool of blood in which Kundry and the maidens dance and cavort. It is undoubtedly blood as sin.

Featuring a trench of running water dividing a parched earth with menacing skies in the distance, Act 1 is the setting for the soul-searching Amfortas, King of the Grail Knights, who desperately seeks forgiveness after receiving a wound from the sacred spear he was entrusted to after being seduced by Kundry in the domain of the expelled knight, Klingsor. As Amfortas, Swedish baritone Peter Mattei baritone brings compelling heat and reverberant strength to a man punished like no other, acting as if living the pain and guilt in superb performance.

As Gurnemanz, veteran Knight of the Grail, Italian bass René Pape expresses the perceptive but steadfastly firm ministerial-like authority of his character in richly brewed vocal depth and impressive control. Swedish soprano Katarina Dalayman, whose distinctive stature and dramatic textures were recently witnessed in Victorian Opera’s Parsifal last year in Melbourne, brings fiery radiance and fierce darkness with extraordinary height and depth as a disturbed Kundry and, introduced in his cavernous domain in a pool of blood, bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin’s menacing Klingsor is brought to evil life in crisp and sculptured stoney form.

And the glorious title role? Renowned German tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, is an ideal Parsifal. When he first appears in Act, his Parsifal is as perplexed as anyone would be by the ceremonial oddities he finds himself witnessing and is in hot demand by slinking maidens in Act 2. Kaufmann’s Parsifal moves with gentleness and poise, the vocal load building from Act 1 to the brilliant power expressing the agony of Amfortas’ wound in Parsifal’s revelatory “Amfortas! - Die Wunde! - Die Wunde!” and a coruscating final aria when the spear heals Amfortas’ wound and the Holy Grail is uncovered.

And when Gurnemanz sings “... you who have suffered everything He suffered. Allow this one burden to be lifted from your head”, guilt is washed away in a sign of forgiveness we can all seek on our own way to enlightenment.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Macbeth: Metropolitan Opera On Demand

Giuseppe Verdi
Metropolitan Opera On Demand
Performance Date: 11th October, 2014
#CoronaCouchOpera, Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn 
5th April, 2020


Verdi’s Macbeth, premiered in 1847 and composed in the fruitful years that launched his universal acclaim, forms a thrilling multi sensory experience retelling Shakespeare’s early 17th century play. A climate of fear and superstition abounds and the quest for power so great, murder seems the easiest option. Buckets of blood are spilled but the price is eventually paid. Despite the story’s general familiarity, you might find yourself holding your breath in constant anticipation as Verdi’s operatic picture unfolds. 

When the curtain goes up, you can sense some challenges ahead in this second revival of English director Adrian Noble’s 2007 staging when a bunch of dowdy women, as the prophesizing witches who Macbeth and Banquo encounter, emerge from a forest singing and waving their handbags. The original work’s loose connection with 11th century Scottish history is replaced by a Second World War aesthetic while question marks keep popping up in this rather superficial concept. 

Musically, you couldn’t ask for more from Italian conductor Fabio Luisi who gave an urgent and emphatic reading of the score, the overture instantly invoking the foreboding ahead in astonishing intelligence and style.

In the title role, Serbian baritone Željko Lučić wears the mantle of cold authority solidly. Not so is Lučić’s unsteady start to a man haunted by his own evil and sense of fear. I’ve heard Lučić in excellent form many times but the broad range, lion-strength instrument he possesses lacks refinement at the top here and comes across forced. Certainly, the mental torment Macbeth endures is depicted convincingly but it’s not until his final aria alone onstage that the combination of man and voice give everything, in the plangent, introspective mood of “Pietà, rispetto, amore”.

There is no disappointment with star Russian soprano Anna Netrebko’s vocal depiction as Lady Macbeth in what was her role debut. Netrebko’s first appearance comes from under the bedcovers, unleashing an opening aria and cabaletta full of rich-centred ferocity, burnished edges and soaring freedom at the top, asserting her Lady Macbeth as what seems more than ruler of the bedroom. Act 2’s “La luce langue” brings stunning height and a crazed demeanour  at the sumptuous state banquet but, in the final toast she makes to her guests, her acting comes across feeling much too dissociated and overly aggressive. 

Netrebko’s greatest combination of voice and acting, like Lučić’s, comes in Act 4’s “Una macchia è qui tuttora”, when Lady Macbeth sleepwalks - mounting the furniture once again - after wringing her hands in an attempt to wash them of blood. Sadly, the passion at play in the pair’s relationship is markedly unbalanced from the start and Act 3’s finale duet, “Ora di morte e di vendetta”, is a particularly awkward mess as Lady Macbeth drags her king to the floor after they resolve to kill Banquo’s son as well as Macduff and his family.

As Banquo, it’s a great loss when German René Pape’s earthy and commanding bass disappears from the stage after his murder in Act 2. Pape’s great forward march in the voice and seemingly utter ease of vocal production fuse marvellously with Banquo’s brave spirit and cautionary eye but, subsequently, it’s only his silent blood-stained ghost we get to see when he returns to haunt  Macbeth.

Rendered in Joseph Calleja’s Macduff is a warm-hearted and distinguished air, the Maltese tenor’s delectably honeyed and smooth Italianate voice bringing enormous sensitivity to Act 3, “O figli, o figli midi! ... Ah, la paterna mano”, an affecting tribute to his murdered family. The chorus of witches, nobles and soldiers are superb in voice and I should mention that the performance is introduced by Georgian soprano Anita Rachvelishvili whose infectious smile and enthusiasm alone should have you settled and excited quickly. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

Don Carlo: Metropolitan Opera On Demand

Don Carlo
Giuseppe Verdi
Metropolitan Opera On Demand
#CoronaCouchOpera, Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn


I’ll keep this brief. I just scraped in on catching New York’s Met Opera free nightly opera stream. On this occasion, it was a chance to revisit one of my certain favourites, Don Carlo. I can’t remember how many times I’ve seen this opera but I’ve seen this Met Opera production by English director Nicholas Hytner on two occasions, March 2013 and April 2015 with different casts. Hytner’s original production premiered in November 2010 with this on-demand offering filmed on my birthday, 11th December. It turns out, on that day, I was in Los Angeles sitting through another Verdi masterpiece, Rigoletto.

In any of its various revisions, Verdi’s sublime, monumental drama is a work that binds plot with music in a triumph of art. And for this, the Met has assembled an extraordinary cast to satisfy the heavy demands required.

Hytner’s notable contribution is seen in the outlining of palpable personal connections and riveting action that responds coherently with the music to which Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s purposeful guidance brings out the work’s ongoing tension with refined musicianship from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. The only problem is that Bob Crowley’s stylised set designs rarely feel supportive despite the excellence of his own sumptuous period costumes and Mark Henderson’s evocative lighting.

Set at the height of the Spanish Inquisition in mid-16th century France and Spain, the storyline is a festering drama around the King Philip II of Spain’s marriage to Elizabeth of Valois - daughter of the French king and formerly betrothed to Philip’s son Don Carlo - after a deal is struck as part of a peace treaty between the two monarchies. Elizabeth and Don Carlo are in love but duty to her people stops Elizabeth from refusing the king’s hand. What ensues are personal agonies played out against political unrest as church and state lie at uneasy crossroads.

‪French tenor Roberto Alagna is convincingly passionate as an emotionally laden Don Carlo. Russian soprano Marina Poplavskaya, equally burdened by concealed love, delivers a sophisticated performance as a thoroughly radiant and uncannily courageous Elizabeth. And ruling with starved compassion as Philip II, cavernous Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto meshes the king’s public and private affairs in a sensational, brooding manner.

Amongst the tragedy, 19th century opera’s greatest bromance, stoked with rapturous music and tenderness, is the beautiful and poignant relationship between Don Carlo and his trusted friend Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa. In British baritone Simon Keenlyside’s virile and untiring performance, Rodrigo is armoured in heroism and centred with loyalty, his death a heartfelt blow to Don Carlo and audience alike. Fuelling the drama too is the vengeful court aristocrat in love with Don Carlo, Princess Eboli and Russian mezzo-soprano Anna Smirnova is a galleon of riches in the role, producing a whirlwind stunner with Act 4’s famous aria, “O don fatal", after having confessed to Elizabeth that it was she who told the King that Elisabeth and Carlos were having an affair.

Adrenaline runs rampant through the work with highlights coming one after the other: Act I’s pledge of loyalty between Don Carlo and Rodrigo, Act 3’s riveting trio of Don Carlo, Rodrigo and Princess Eboli when she threatens to tell the King that Elisabeth and Carlos are lovers, as well as the massed of the act’s concluding auto-da-fé scene, Philip II’s sleepless night while deliberating over his wife’s barren love for him and punishment of his son in Act 4 and Elizabeth’s eventual aching aria, wishing to consign herself to death, at the haunted tomb of Charles V.

I guess I wasn’t so brief after all!