“…and finally, I ask you to tell us when will we finally be free from egotistical directors thinking they know better than the composer and dressing everyone in nondescript leather jackets?!”

The laughter that came from the audience was understandable – I had thought I’d been invited to speak at the annual Rossini Conference at St John’s College Cambridge because of my recent success in a production of La scala di seta for The Royal Opera House. In order to cement my credentials as a young counter-culture director I had decided to eschew the coat and tie and had instead joined the panel discussion in my usual dressed-down style – and, although far from “non-descript”, the leather jacket I was wearing suddenly felt as though it was traitorously making my interlocuter’s point for him.

This discussion was a symptom of a strange dichotomy that has emerged within the commentariat in the operatic world – the “purist” who wishes to see productions in their originally intended period and with ‘traditional’ stagings, and the lovers of “regietheater” or, translated from the German, “directors’ theatre”, which allows a full freedom of creative interpretation that extends to all aspects of the mis-en-sceneand may...