Review: Niobe, Regina Di Tebe

A discovery not worth making

By Stephen Pollard, September 28, 2010

Royal Opera House, London WC2

Niobe, Regina di Tebe: the revival is “a waste of time, money and talent”

Niobe, Regina di Tebe: the revival is “a waste of time, money and talent”

One of the most alluring of artistic myths is that of the lost masterpiece. With paintings it is sometimes true; there have even been great novels that have laid undiscovered for decades.

Niobe, Regina di Tebe is an opera by the obscure Italian composer, Agostino Steffani, which was first performed in Munich in 1688. It circulated around Europe for a few years and was then never heard again, until a revival in Germany in 2008.

Had that run of performances been left alone then they might perhaps have been filed under the label "operatic curio"; one should never criticise artists for experimentation and curiosity.

But for some reason - even more inexplicable now that it has been performed here - the Royal Opera decided that the 2008 revival should be repeated on the main stage at Covent Garden for a run of six performances, with a cast of fine baroque singers and a specially imported orchestra.

All of which, I have to tell you, is a waste of everyone's time, money and talent, and serves no purpose other than to demonstrate that there are few, if any, lost operatic masterpieces.

Niobe is one among the myriad operas which were produced by hack baroque composers. Quite why the Royal Opera gave its revival even a moment's thought, when there are so many superb pieces still waiting for performance, is a mystery.

The director, Lukas Hemleb, throws everything he has at it, with disco globes, glittering costumes, and all manner of theatrical distractions designed to keep an audience's interest, but none of them works. The fact is that the piece is a monumental bore, with sub-standard music and zero dramatic interest.

It is sung well, and played with panache by the orchestra, but who cares? (Tel: 020 7304 4000)

Last updated: 6:34pm, November 10 2010