Boy, the crap that opera’s allowed to get away with. The mime, the mugging, the movement, the ideas. Richard Jones’s new production of Rodelinda at the English National Opera seemed to be channelling that heady mix of bullshit and banality that that signer had nailed so well at the Mandela funeral.

Theatre wouldn’t have got away with it. Daytime telly wouldn’t have got away with it. Even the Chuckle Brothers, I reckon, might have thought twice about some of these routines. But apparently it’s absolutely fine to stuff Handel’s Rodelinda with tripe. Especially as the music’s just about to hit the heights. Thus were several sung glories ruined by mindless, barely acted fannying about.

‘Here I am slamming a door!’ ‘Here I am opening a cupboard!’ ‘Here I am opening a box!’ Here I am flicking a switch!’ ‘Here I am with BLOOD ON MY HEAD!’

Matt Casey and Rebecca Evans. Photo: Clive Barda

Matt Casey (Flavio) and Rebecca Evans (Rodelinda). Photo: Clive Barda

‘Here I am with a HAMMER!’:

John Mark Ainsley, Iestyn Davies and Richard Burkhard. Photo: Clive Barda

John Mark Ainsley (Grimoaldo), Iestyn Davies (Bertarido) and Richard Burkhard (Garibaldo). Photo: Clive Barda

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‘Here are my HANDS!’

Rebecca Evans (Rodelinda) and Matt Casey. Photo: Clive Barda

Christopher Ainslie (Unulfo), Rebecca Evans (Rodelinda) and Matt Casey (Flavio). Photo: Clive Barda

The opening act set looks rather pretty here. But up close, it felt messy and claustrophobic.

Photo: Clive Barda

Photo: Clive Barda

By far the best moment of the night came with the relocation of the Act II pastoral scene to a neon-lit, Lynchian dive.

Christopher Ainslie (Unulfo) and Iestyn Davies (Bertarido). Photo: Clive Barda

Christopher Ainslie (Unulfo) and Iestyn Davies (Bertarido). Photo: Clive Barda

And there was one coup de théâtre at the end of Act II, the set disintegrating during Iestyn Davies (Bertarido) and Rebecca Evans’ (Rodelinda) ravishing farewell duet, ‘Io t’abbraccio’ (I embrace you).

John Mark Ainsley. Photo: Clive Barda

John Mark Ainsley. Photo: Clive Barda

In fact, thinking again, I begin to feel a little churlish. For while 80 per cent of this production was eminently slag-offable, 20 per cent was as good as Richard Jones gets. As good as opera gets. The final scenes saw a fantastic bit of Jonesian subversion. And the singing was second to none. I could have booed. I could have cheered. Instead, you have this.

Rodelinda continues at the ENO until 15 March

Tags: ENO, Handel, Richard Jones, Rodelinda