thu 25/07/2024

The Flying Dutchman, Opera North | reviews, news & interviews

The Flying Dutchman, Opera North

The Flying Dutchman, Opera North

Uncluttered, semi-staged Wagner, full of musical thrills

The Orchestra and Chorus of Opera North, with Richard Farnes conductingAll images by Robert Workman

We’ve been spoilt over the past few summers in Leeds; Opera North’s semi-staged Ring has been a triumph, and the whole cycle will be performed complete in June 2016. To fill the Town Hall in 2015 we’ve got concert performances of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman. You have to commend the decision taken to play the work straight through without any intermissions, though it’s a bit of a slog in places; much of Act 2 feels dramatically inert.

By contrast, Götterdämmerung’s five hours pass in the blink of an eye.

You marvel at how much Wagner’s style was to develop in just a few decades; in a work like Siegfried you’re on the edge of your seat, wondering what’s going to come next. There aren’t quite so many magic moments in The Flying Dutchman, but when they do arrive they can still shock. Like the passage just before the Dutchman makes his first entrance, when the texture becomes alarmingly spare and we hear very little apart from a few lonely, sustained brass notes.

As with The Ring, Peter Mumford’s unfussy direction and video projections make up for the lack of staging. It’s hard to fault the overall effect; rarely do you miss being in an opera house. Wagner’s orchestra (this time rather smaller than the one we’ve become accustomed to) provides more than enough sonic and visual thrills to compensate, and it’s fun to see the on-stage musicians making their appearances. There are some striking visuals: during the overture’s stormier music there’s a swaying ship’s mast which will, if you stare at it for long enough, make you feel as if the whole hall is rocking. The Dutchman’s haunted eyes glare at us. A large screen is fashioned to look like a sail. Fotini Dimou’s elegant costume designs work well, though the Dutchman’s black spangly greatcoat is comically distracting when it first appears.

Most of the cast are familiar from the company’s Ring, and seeing them again is like welcoming old friends. Mats Almgren’s glowering Daland (pictured above, centre, with Belá Perencz and Alwyn Mellor) is exceptional; watching his eyes glaze over as he looks at the jewels which the Dutchman has given him inevitably recalls his turn as Fafner. Seeing him break out into a smile at the opera’s close is a surprise. A real pleasure too when you’ve a bass who can sing so musically and accurately, even at full volume.Belá Perencz’s stoic Dutchman commands attention even when he’s doing nothing. Alwyn Mellor as Senta combines towering strength with vulnerability. We get excellent support from Ceri Williams’s Mary and an engaging turn from Mark Le Brocq as Daland’s Steersman. There’s a welcome return from Mati Turi as a bluff, dependable Erik; you have to stifle a cheer when he makes his entrance in Act 2.

Opera North’s chorus excel throughout, especially when taunting the Dutchman’s crew. There’s flawless orchestral support under the unassuming Richard Farnes, controlling Wagner’s various strands like a benign spider at the centre of a particularly tangled web.

A swaying ship’s mast will make you feel as if the whole hall is rocking


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Well.................I was on my feet at the end! Yes, it was a long haul, but worth maintaining the full-on power of Opera North's wonderful orchestra.

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