Sunday, 8 February 2015

Royal Opera House: Der fliegende Holländer **** (The Flying Dutchman)


It’s been a good week for Wagner lovers. Covent Garden had their opening night of Tom Albany’s revival: Der fliegende Holländer last Thursday and English National Opera, the nation’s opera house down the road, opened their season with The Meistersinger on Saturday. (REVIEW COMING SOON)

Shown in 2009 and 2011, Albany’s production lays bear the solitude felt from a community of sea bound sailors and forlorn women abandoned on dry land. Their grief is funneled through the voices of our lead singers the Flying Dutchman, which is sung by our nation’s favourite baritone Bryn Terfel with Senta sung by Canadian soprano Adrianne Pieczonka.
Leitmotifs are prolific in Der fliegende Holländer as expected for most operas composed by Wagner. He created fresh and memorable melodies, but not all.  With Der fliegende Holländer his leitmotifs echo emotional tension, suspense, mystery and uncertainty. A nihilistic sense of being is ubiquitous in Albany’s production from stage, music, chorus singers and leads.

Consider all of that bleakness served in an opera devoid of an interval and you might want to run for the hills, but in truth the musical subtleties and Wagnerism enchantment are worth the time and patience. The simplistic stage design, however, left me with a few unanswered questions, on the night, as it didn’t mirror the same magnitude.

For obvious reasons the stark and minimalistic set designs of Michael Levine may give audience more space to listen and become immersed with the music, yet this meant they very little for their eyes. Luckily the hot-blooded chorus singers (and there were many) and notable characterisation from the cast managed to gage our interest. Yet for audiences seated on the left including myself, we were slightly shortchanged as most lead singers, including Terfel, were directed to stay on the left. This led to bitter disappointment for many operagoers on the upper slips. Note: Don't purchase tickets located on the left amphitheatre, slips, etc. 
The conductor Andris Nelsons, positively received in Europe, waved his baton with passion and fluidity as if he had a higher understanding of the Wagerian influences and vulnerability of the opera’s characters. He managed to strike a balance between the sorrow of Terfel and Pieczonka and gusty brawniness of the chorus ensembles, particularly in the very end. Nelsons massive contribution made the production an evening of musical sublimity.

Terfel has perfected the role of the Dutchman as he has sung the role for more than a decade. He depicted all the yearning and despair of a man cursed for seven years at sea. Pieczonka took on the complicated role of Senta. She puts in all the vigour of a vocally tough role, though she didn’t blow everyone away. She aptly unifies the complexity of a woman starved of affection and intimacy, but, for a first night, she failed to bring the required excitement to her performance. Nonetheless they portrayed pathos in the unresolved situation and looked good on stage together. The supporting cast with Ed Lyons, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Michael König and Peter Rose were also moving and lusty even if they sung through a storm. 

[----So about that 2.5-hour opera and absence of an interval - well, it didn’t help that there was small creek of water on stage, which alluded to the bathroom for many. Think about the poor orchestra as well. Some of the brass instruments got a break, but the rest - nada!]


There is also the live screening of the Der fliegende Holländer on the 24th of February. Click here for more information. Photos courtesy of the Royal Opera House.