I feel sorry for anyone who hoped to hear Luisi conduct Aida and now won't, because on Saturday night he did a superb job. He never achieved the blood-and-guts, life-and-death heights that Pappano can - but then how many conductors do? We're extravagantly spoilt in that respect.
On every other count it was hard to fault him. The orchestra played with spirit and refinement, the singers were wonderfully supported, and Luisi held enough back to make the big moments tell - the third act climax was a heart-racing eruption. He took the music at face value and invested it with a colour and delicacy that belied the work's reputation. It sounded fresh and new.
Just one small problem. Luisi is booked to conduct Aida at Covent Garden on those two nights.
Now Luisi is not known for his Wagner. And until he dumped the ROH, he wasn't free either. In other words, there were more obvious candidates available. So Luisi's last minute step into the breach should be viewed as an auspicious one by Met-watchers. What it means for his future at Covent Garden is probably the last thing on his mind, given his form.
However, dissatisfaction has been brewing in the orchestra for a while now. Publicly-aired grievances have been related to pay and status rather than Luisi himself. But the conductor has never really settled into the city's musical life since his appointment - a point that rankles locally is that he never moved his family to Dresden. And despite his acknowledged expertise in a narrow area of the repertoire - particularly Strauss, Verdi and Mahler - the general opinion is that, especially outside the opera house, he has not always maintained the high standards for which the Dresden Staatskapelle is renowned, with allegations of insufficient rehearsals and worse. The German press have even seen fit to toss their worst possible disparagement - Kapellmeistertypus - his way on more than one occasion.
Luisi recently withdrew from several January concerts, claiming sickness. Local cynics noted that this followed ecstatically-received guest conducting appearances by Thielemann. Expectations of Luisi's premature departure became rife.
So few were surprised when he handed in his cards on Wednesday, with that old favourite 'artistic differences' cited as the cause. More specifically, Luisi explains (via a press release) that broadcaster ZDF have had too much say in the programming for the Dresdeners' 2010 New Year's Concert, which is to be televised. The direction taken by incoming General Director Ulrike Hessler has, Luisi believes, compromised the orchestra's artistic and aesthetic standards.
Translation? - he's peeved that the preferred choice of conductor for this prestigious broadcast is Christian Thielemann.
Prom 56: Sachsische Staatskapelle Dresden / Luisi / Lang Lang - Royal Albert Hall, 27 August 2009
This is what the Proms are best at. Modestly-scaled works may be cruelly exposed by the troublesome acoustic, but the army demanded by Strauss's Alpine Symphony - 100+ musicians, a vast battery of percussion and of course the mighty organ - filled the Royal Albert Hall where others fail. The Staatskapelle Dresden's agile, propulsive performance was not without blemish. But Fabio Luisi balanced his forces beautifully, and telling details like pizzicato raindrops were perfectly framed against an unsentimentally-wrought landscape.
Inspired programming paired it with traces by Rebecca Saunders. Strauss takes us up the mountain and down again; Rebecca Saunders circles round it, contemplating from all angles. Monumental blocks of sound materialise and evanesce, shape and colour changing with each appearance. The leering, jagged crux warns this is not cosy mood music. It's hypnotic yet unsettling.
Too many of the 'contemporary' slots in this year's Proms have been given over to John Adams and his warm baths in post-modernist cliche. This formed a rare and essential diversion.
Too bad a toddler's wails pierced through the quieter sections. I'm all for welcoming kids, but there are limits - a concert hall is not a creche.
And then on bounced the Saviour of Classical Music himself, Lang Lang. His hair was gelled to attention, his head tossed back, his face scrunched in ecstatic agony - it was impossible to watch him without wincing - but his usual exuberance at the keyboard was reined in. Chopin's second piano concerto was all restraint, not a note was hammered. He listened to the orchestra, they listened to him. Questionably, he sacrificed his usual brilliant articulation for a more smudged, impressionistic tone.
There was little that seemed spontaneous, but nothing garish or vulgar either. It wasn't a brilliant performance or one that will stick in my mind forever by any means, but it's further evidence that Lang Lang is at last exploiting his exceptional talent more wisely. Even his encore, a Chopin étude, was thoughtful and delicate. Has Lang Lang grown up?