Gustav Mahler called Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio “the opera of operas”, and those of us less qualified than he to assess its many merits must ever regard it as a massively impressive work.

So, in the 250th anniversary year of its composer’s birth, this week’s new production at Covent Garden, starring a singer The Times calls “the best (and sexiest) tenor in the world”, would naturally be the hottest of hot tickets.

Not so hot, though, that I was unable to grasp a pair. We were at the Royal Opera House on Tuesday for a perplexing performance under the baton of the venue’s music director Sir Antonio Pappano.

And lest anyone should conclude that I had somehow wangled seats, let me state straightaway that our tickets were bought and paid for.

Indeed, those who think that we newspaper folk are ever on a freebie ought now to be told that I have never once sought – or been offered – press seats at Covent Garden.

Actually, that needs correcting. I was offered a pair of seats at a performance of Verdi’s Macbeth a decade or so ago in a bid by the ROH to interest the provincial press in the (then new) opera relays to cinemas. But I was out of the country and passed the tickets to one of our freelance contributors.

Covent Garden’s Fidelio is going live on March 17 to 1,500 cinemas across the country, including the usual ones in Oxfordshire. Wayward as this production is under director Tobias Kratzer, it should not be missed for the excellence of the musical content and especially the sensational performance of Lise Davidsen in the title role.

That Fidelio remains the title role is surprising, as we shall see, in the light of the weird changes Kratzer has made to the work.

No hint of these was given by Pappano in an interview in last week’s Spectator where he defended the ROH against charges of elitism.

This specifically arose over Fidelio – featuring that ‘sexy tenor’ Jonas Kaufmann – with press reports that most seats had been grabbed by Covent Garden ‘friends’.

“That’s not particularly true,” Pappano told interviewer Norman Lebrecht. “In October, we released several hundred tickets. They were snapped up [by me, among others].

“We couldn’t sell Fidelio for love nor money the last time we did it. Is it because of Jonas Kaufmann? Really? He doesn’t sing until the second act.”

Pappano might have added that when he does, his brilliant delivery comes not from the depths of the darkest dungeon, where his character Florestan is wrongfully imprisoned, but in a well-lit room on what looks like an enormous pile of elephant dung, surrounded by a vast gallery of spectators (the chorus) in modern dress.

Who they? I suppose all of us who observe, or at any rate are aware of and tolerate, the torture of others – even as we commiserate over it.

But what Fidelio is about, surely, is the rescue of a man by his brave and faithful wife, Leonore, who disguises herself as a boy, Fidelio, to trick her way to his solitary cell to free him.

Not here she doesn’t – or at least not unaided. Her assistant is jailer’s daughter Marzelline (Amanda Forsythe), who is nowhere on the scene in the opera as written.

She arrives as a pistol-packing Calamity Jane figure to plug the Governor Don Pizarro as he moves to vengeful murder, becoming the heroine of the moment.

Beethoven called the first versions of this much-amended opera Leonore, before settling on Fidelio for the final version as given (in musical terms) here. I am surprised Kratzer didn’t rename it Marzelline.

About this new business, of course, is an unsavoury, and unjustified, element of political correctness along #MeToo lines.

Marzelline, who madly fancies ‘Fidelio’, early comes upon Leonore (again an alteration to the plot) loosened from bosom-flattening bandages, and therefore knows her secret. Thereafter, it’s girls together in their move against the monstrous men. All very PC – but hardly true to the work as conceived by its genius creator.

While Florestan was writhing in the aforementioned elephant poo, the thought struck me that the phrase ‘almighty mess’ had wider implications in this production.

Beethoven – irresistible to say – must be turning in his grave. A ‘roll-over’ indeed.