THE Royal Opera House was sold out for this the UK premiere of Luciano

Berio's 1974 opera, his second collaboration with Italo Calvino. I took

a standing room ticket, and was glad to find the evening mercifully

short at two hours.

However, it was a great event. It is a complex and demanding work,

only made comprehensible by surtitles. Musically, not the kind of opera

one leaves whistling the tunes: more on the lines of a continuous

abstract ''sound tapestry'' which surrounds and supports the singers.

Imaginatively produced by Graham Vick, it was set as an operatic

rehearsal -- a theatre within a theatre -- the stage constantly busy

with the hubbub of theatrical life, singers and dancers rehearsing. In

addition there were lots of extraneous distractions: a lady sawn in

half, trapeze artists, a flying chorus and live vultures, etc.

The Tempest-based story, also resonant of Lear was really a vehicle

for exploring the artist's predicament -- a typical Calvino theme,

familiar from his novel, If on a Winter's Night. A king (the opera

composer) listens, trying to understand the process of artistic

communication. The director, however, has his own ideas of how to make

the work a theatrical success (a spectacular but superficial circus).

The composer is variously seen as an enchantress and a dumb,

inarticulate child; also revered more in death than in life.

But he is ultimately alone, leaving perhaps only ''a memory to the


Needless to say, the singing and playing were exemplary: Donald

McIntyre's masked baritone was supremely resigned and melancholic as the

king. Robert Tear (Director) and Kathryn Harries (Protagonista) also

starred. The composer conducted definitively.