Deprived of the opportunity to afford Placido Domingo a warm hand on his entrance, the audience at tonight's Covent Garden Tamerlano premiere applauded the next best thing. The scenery.
The first object of ovation was Act 1's rather fetching life-size model elephant (above). That's a real lady on top, the very talented Renata Pokupic, who sang the part of Irene brilliantly. But not brilliantly enough to outclass a lump of wood on castors in the audience's ovatory affections.
We had to wait for Act 3, a long three hours, until another inanimate object was wheeled out (literally) to a big hand. That lucky piece of furniture was a sort of rolling catwalk transporting mezzo Christianne Stotijn, the dashing but vocally uneven Tamerlano (below).
I could sort of understand the elephant. You don't see one of those every day. Not in WC2 anyway. But a trolley?
Granted the spare, static production made for a dull four-and-a-half hours. It needed a Placido-sized personality to fill the empty, oversized sets - and none of the cast came close to matching up.
A clap-happy contingent in the audience were eager to puncture the boredom by ritual ovation of every aria - good, bad or (mostly) indifferent. I could just about tolerate that. But scenery-applauding? Really. Handel's opera has lasted over 300 years. Even the greatest opera production would be lucky to last a tenth of that time. Singers take many years to perfect their craft. Props are knocked up in a few days then scrapped when they're done with. Did some members of tonight's audience really pay £200 just to clap a lump of wood? I hope not.
(More words and pictures tomorrow. Maybe.)