The superb Ed Gardner as the captain of this nautically primed orchestra set us quickly on our course
by Melinda Hughes
It was a full moon and a windswept night when I went to see The Flying Dutchman at the ENO, perfect for this tumultuous sea-faring opera. The superb Ed Gardner as the captain of this nautically primed orchestra set us quickly on our course.
Engulfing 3D images of crashing waves and a rough deep ocean were projected around the bed in which young Senta sleeps. The ENO have certainly mastered this superb projection technique. Senta conjures up the ghosts of the Dutchman through her storybook and the sailors come to life around her.
Of course it isn’t unusual to depict the Dutchman as a figment of Senta’s imagination but this production (without any interval) took this theme one step further, turning many scenes on their head.
Daland (Senta’s father) was superbly sung by Clive Bayley, whose rich bass tone and presence on stage set the night up for some powerful scenes. We soon saw Senta as a young woman, sung by Orla Boylon, still in bed clutching her book and dreaming of her fated love. The sense of foreboding, a swelling sea and the odd sea shanty is dramatically portrayed by a brass-rich orchestra conducted by an excited Gardner driving them ever-forward.
Senta’s long aria depicting the tale of the Dutchman is a tour de force. She is met with ridicule and mockery by a group of girls led by the rich mezzo Susanna Tudor-Thomas, who instead of sitting and spinning are making ships in a bottle in a rundown factory reminiscent of ‘Made in Dagenham’. Boylon has a powerful metallic soprano voice and was totally in control vocally and physically, which is saying something as she was certainly put through her paces in this production.
When the Dutchman (a cross between a Friedrich painting and a brooding Mr Darcy) arrived, they didn’t face each other for an eternity, making their connection all the stronger. Sometimes scenes are a little static but it’s refreshing to be able to concentrate on the emotions and music rather than watch singers tear around the stage.
James Creswell’s Dutchman is swarthy, foreboding and powerful. He sings with intent, excellent diction and a rich tone; I would definitely jump into the Atlantic with him.
Instead of a sailors’ chorus we see Senta engulfed in a rough, cruel fancy-dress orgy where she is manhandled and insulted. Is this real or another dream? She is almost gruesomely gang-raped but the voice of the Dutchman unleashes a 1970s Carrie-like wrath upon her assailants. Powerful and shocking stuff indeed, but here’s where it gets a little complicated: if the Dutchman really is a total figment of her imagination, what is real?
The Dutchman has disappeared and when Erik (Senta’s betrothed) touchingly and sensitively sung by Stuart Skelton declared his love for her and tears her away from the Dutchman (or her projection of him), she ends up killing herself and we never know if she and the Dutchman rise out of the sea, lovers united forever.
It’s a gritty and abrupt end which rather loses the romance of the promise of eternity but its certainly powerful stuff. The chorus are superb and the diction and level of musicality top class.
Don’t be afraid of this Wagner opera: it’s short, melodic, powerful and superbly sung. What’s more, you’ll be settled at your table at Bocca di Lupo by 9.45.