Opera: The Fortunes of King Croesus and Madama Butterfly, Leeds | L'elisir d'amore, Glyndebourne

Opera: Opera North unearths a composer perhaps best left buried, but Puccini's Butterfly still soars.

The Fortunes of King Croesus and Madama Butterfly
Grand Theatre, Leeds, now touring

L'elisir d'amore
Glyndebourne, East Sussex, now touring

In his day, he was called an 'emperor of melody'. CPE Bach hailed the 'beauty, novelty and expression' of his music. Handel paid him the compliment of stealing his tunes. But musical history has otherwise forgotten the early 18th-century German composer Reinhard Keiser. Now Opera North is offering Keiser resuscitation with the British premiere of one of the few of his 60 operas to survive, The Fortunes of King Croesus. That, at least, is the English reduction of its lumpen German title in a new translation by its director, Tim Albery, a local favourite who persuaded ON's management to give him this chance to save Keiser from lasting oblivion.

Was it worth it? Up to a point. On balance, the ON team receives more points for enterprise than delivery. The work has its moments, not least some dazzling arias, but it also has (despite wholesale cuts) its considerable longueurs. Albery's staging, a multi-period affair zeroing in on 1930s fascism, does little to clarify the dizzying complexities of its plot. There are too many characters, unnecessarily obscuring the gist of the piece: sage old Solon is right to predict that wealthy, contented Croesus is riding for a fall. But it all ends happily ever after.

Leslie Travers's designs litter the stage with mini aircraft attacking mini cities, then a crashed fuselage doubling as dungeon and hideout. In the title role, the dogged Paul Nilon makes what he can of a strangely underwritten part. It is the game Gillian Keith who gets star billing as the captive princess Elmira, in love with Croesus's son Atis, but there is scant sexual chemistry between her and the gauche American male soprano Michael Maniaci. Lovingly conducted by period specialist Harry Bicket, the show seems designed as a vehicle for the freakish Maniaci's UK debut, but it is hard to resist the conclusion that Albery's main achievement in disinterring this curiosity is to demonstrate why it has so long lain neglected.

Albery is also responsible for ON's new Madama Butterfly, now setting off on tour after a month of packed houses in Leeds. Apart from his inability to resist a gratuitous framework, beginning and ending the piece in a latterday brothel (presumably to draw some sort of parallel with contemporary sex-trading), Albery has crafted a distinguished staging worthy of many a revival.

The more I see this anti-colonialist heartbreaker, the more Puccini's stagecraft persuades me it is one of the masterworks of the 20th century, especially in a staging as tasteful and otherwise unintrusive as Albery's. From the moment Pinkerton laughs at his servants' quaint Japanese names, and mimics the dainty way they walk, you know this is a phoney marriage bound to end in tears.

Two-and-a-half hours later, the dignity with which Anne Sophie Duprels's Butterfly dismisses her faithful servant Suzuki (the excellent Ann Taylor) confirms the French soprano as a Cio-Cio-San for our times, her singing almost as immaculate as her affecting acting. Entirely convincing as the 15-year-old who cannot believe her luck in nailing a Yankee, she remains so as the Westernised single mother who clings to impossible hope, bolstered by Rafael Rojas's boorish Pinkerton and Peter Savidge's sympathetic Sharpless. Audiences from Halifax to Windermere will overlook some rough-edged orchestral entries in a production of metropolitan standards, beautifully designed by Hildegard Bechtler and conducted with panache by Wyn Davies.

Down south, audiences from Woking to Plymouth are also in for a treat in Annabel Arden's new version for Glyndebourne's touring company of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. For the most part sensibly traditional, contentedly pitching camp in Lez Brotherston's small-town Italian piazza, Arden's staging is enlivened at all the right moments by such innovations as a lantern-show for Dulcamara's travelling circus, suavely manned by Luciano di Pasquale and his hyper-active assistant, Robert Luckay. Massimo Cavalletti offers stalwart support as a manly Sergeant Belcore. As Adina, the village Juliet around whom the action swirls, Adriana Kucerova has the vocal range and the stage presence to win back the hearts she hardens. But the jewel in the show's crown is the lovelorn Nemorino of Peter Auty, whose climactic 'Una furtiva lagrima' proves him as fine a lyric tenor as any currently onstage.

Conducted with elan by Enrique Mazzola, the production will return to the main festival in 2009. In the meantime, when it reaches Sadler's Wells in December, London audiences will have a chance to compare it with Laurent Pelly's imminent new version for Covent Garden.

· King Croesus returns to Leeds and Salford Quays in November; Madama Butterfly tours northern venues until March; L'elisir d'amore tours until December


Anthony Holden

The GuardianTramp

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