Not for the first time during this WNO autumn tour, the star tenor Dennis O’Neill was ‘indisposed’ on Tuesday, leaving the task of presenting one of opera’s most notoriously difficult roles to his substitute. Terence Robertson had already given a series of scheduled performances as Otello at earlier venues, so was happily at home with the dramatic side of the part, even if his singing lacked the commanding and stage-dominating element that might have been expected from O’Neill.

His rapport with his Desdemona, the wonderful Amanda Roocroft, was especially apparent in the great Act I love duet. There were times, though, when his voice went unheard in the unequal combat with the martial brass against which so much of Otello’s vocal line is scored. Thrilling as the brass sound was, the enthusiasm of the players might profitably have been curtailed at times by conductor Michal Klausa. Occasionally, my hands flew to my ears as they might at a rock concert.

Paul Curran’s new production, while not entirely effacing memories of Peter Stein’s seminal version for WNO from 1986, is nonetheless a handsome, musically satisfying account of one of opera’s most justly valued works.

While the storm-racked Cypriot seashore of the first scene was hardly a visual treat – the stage seeming ludicrously packed with the full forces of WNO’s lusty voiced chorus – Curran, designer Paul Edwards and David Martin Jacques (lighting) go on to provide much delight for the eye.

Nothing is more exciting than the sudden eruption into blazing grandeur that comes with the arrival of the Venetian ambassadors in Act III. What had previously been a gloomy, rather depressing scene, is utterly altered as a screen splits to reveal a huge golden Lion of Venice, and the trireme-borne courtiers and their women make stately progress beneath pennants in gorgeous clothes of red, gold and silver.

Even here, though, the pile of shattered rocks that has confronted the audience from the start remains in view. Dark brown on the outside, with a purple filling, these layered lumps looked like giant slices of chocolate and blackcurrant gateau. The sudden appearance of a huge viper (or some such) next to them at the start of Act II will lead me henceforward to think of this production as WNO’s ‘cake and snake’ Otello.

The reptile supplies, altogether unsubtly, a visual memory to accompany the various mentions of snakes, venom and the like that follow – usually from, or about, the odious Iago. A relishable, very well-sung portrait of stage villainy is supplied in this production by David Kempster. I cannot be alone in thinking, however, that we could have done without the silly display of hissing that greeted his curtain call.

The snake surely reminds us, too, of the end to Otello and Desdemona’s Eden-like period of happiness together that the jealous Iago’s machinations cause. Finally, to underline the strong Christian overtones to the work, the most potent symbol of all, the cross, is startlingly presented (and remains on view) in strips of yellow light funneled through the open doorway to Desdemona’s bedroom, through which the Moor has passed on his mission of murder.

There is a further performance of Otello tomorrow night. Rossini’s The Barber of Seville is being given tonight and Saturday. For tickets call 0844 847 1585 (