Saturday's much-anticipated visit to Symphony Hall by Opera North and a glittering trio of soloists turned out to be something of a disappointment.
A flaccid account of Wagner's Mastersingers Prelude, apparently prepared almost as an afterthought, got the evening off to a clattery, illbalanced start.
Spreading the orchestra across the whole width of an enlarged apron stage with no risers made the sound diffuse, with little sense of exhilarating ceremonial.
And balances did nothing to complement soprano Amanda Roocroft's glorious delivery of the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss, clouding her well-projected diction at times.
Roocroft's voice has mellowed so much in a comparatively short time, dark lower tones now effortlessly matched to radiant upper registers, and as she began I was reminded of the timbres of Elisabeth Soderstrom, who recorded these gems with the orchestra of Welsh National Opera under Richard Armstrong..
Roocroft's serene, beatific stagepresence held our attention even in the lengthy orchestral interludes and postludes, and her control over line in Strauss' melismatic phrases was mightily impressive.
The reason for this unsatisfactory orchestral layout was of course to accommodate the huge forces required in Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle and to create performing areas and walkways for the tiny cast in this work which is scarcely an opera, more a vast orchestral tone-poem with voices (both discreetly miked here).
The newly-ennobled Sir John Tomlinson was typically commanding and cutting in delivery as the chilling, mysterious Bluebeard and Sally Burgess brought welcome dimensions of character and conviction as his new bride who asks too many questions. Orchestral playing under Richard Farnes was admirable and atmospheric.
But puny visuals scarcely justified the intrusiveness of a large screen and all the noisy adjuncts it demanded to such little purpose.