Caligula - English National Opera, 25 May (first night)
Benedict Andrews' production looks spectacular, but buried beneath the glitter and lipstick and guns and underpants, is a rather slight opera. Detlev Glanert's Caligula, based on Albert Camus' play of the same name, explores the psychology of tyranny in the form of the notorious Roman Emperor. Unfortunately, nothing much happens - fine in a play, fatal for opera.
The libretto (and I don't know how far Amanda Holden's translation is to blame) is banal and uneventful, and this sinks the music too. Glanert has an original voice and orchestrates skilfully, even if his influences (Berg, early Strauss) are over-prominent. But text lacks tension and strength of purpose, and although an excellent cast do their best, the opera fails to pack a dramatic punch. Andrews' flashy effects - a naked ghost-bride, masked spectators, showgirls, and so on - provide more eye candy than context or explanation.
Peter Coleman-Wright is not the most elegant of singers, but he proved an unrestrained and compelling presence in the title role. It was a shame that all he had to do was act mad, then madder. Christopher Ainslie as his servant Helicon and Carolyn Dobbin as the brave voice of defiance, Scipio, were the pick of the rest, but really everyone did well - the overall standard of performance was very high indeed. The ENO orchestra sounded superb under Ryan Wigglesworth too.
Having said all that, staging Caligula is a brave move from ENO. Nobody could say they've failed to do the opera justice, and the material is certainly better than some of the tosh they've put out recently (Two Boys I'm looking at you). With discounted stalls tickets readily available for £20, it's definitely worth going to see to make up your own mind.
Production photos (above) Johan Persson
Curtain call photos (below) intermezzo.typepad.com