This felt like stodgy Shakespeare, the bard's verse treated with staid reverence. The music, mostly big and loud, was very English, the sorts of incidental war marches and Renaissance-style dances that would fit easily into any Robin Hood adaptation but Russell Crowe's. (Or any Henry V for that matter. Such Briton cliches might be more appropriate to film; on stage, they felt lazy.) Plummer's oratorical style felt proficient and satisfactory, but dully so, the work of an English actor showing off a beautiful voice backed up by superficial feeling, as in the predictably timed bellows, or the touch of vibrato meant to signify Falstaff.
Thank goodness, then, that the evening began with a clear and steady performance of the first 20 minutes of Wagner's Tannhauser. Wagner's operas can be overwhelming, with their epic lengths and inert dramas, but the composer's ear for melody, his knack for dynamic structure and arrangement, are easily appreciated in small bits like this opera's overture, which develops a simple, lovely melody until it pours forth over a proto-Tchaikovsky cascade of strings, a nice musical representation of the tears it's hard not to shed. Even if I can't help but sing to myself a lyric from "What's Opera, Doc?" whenever I hear this overture ("Oh Bwoonhilda, yaw so wuvwey." "Yes, I know it, I can't help it"), that doesn't diminish its power. In fact, strangely, it makes it better.