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Aron hangs inverted at the base of a steel slope, attached by a red cord to his bearded brother. Moses will fail his attempted climb, tied to earth by the weight of his identical brother. The burning bush speaks.

This is a bold opening statement, not just for Munich’s new Moses und Aron, but also for the closing festival of Sir Peter Jonas’s 13 years at the helm of the Bavarian State Opera. Jonas has run the house with a felicitous combination of artistic nous and economic common sense, dusting off conventional repertoire, adding a wildly successful baroque series, serving up consistently slick productions that seldom provoked their well-dressed public beyond endurance.

Moses und Aron, Schoenberg’s unfinished 12-tone struggle with his Jewish identity, is such challenging repertoire that departing music director Zubin Mehta doubled the usual number of orchestral rehearsals. The effort paid off. Mehta eschews glassy perfection in favour of high-level precision coupled with intense musicality. Every phrase lives and breathes.

David Pountney’s production is a haphazard attempt to subvert Schoenberg’s monotheistic message. Religious freedom is a fine thing, he suggests, adding flower-power hippies and coloured balloons to the golden calf scene. But too much anarchy is bad, hence the Hell’s Angels on motorbikes and ritual murders. Pountney tries to make a statement against religious fanaticism, but loses his way amid self- created contradictions.

John Tomlinson is a Moses of the highest order, agonised and persuasive, every word crystal clear. John Daszak is seductively lyrical as Aron. The chorus manages its fiendishly difficult part impressively.

Jonas and Mehta may have lagged behind their German counterparts in intellectual rigour, but they never forgot that opera can provide pleasure. Their successors should take note. ★★★★☆


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