The Flying Dutchman, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, April 2012Posted on 29 April 2012
Sudden darkness in the auditorium … the orchestra struck up, and we were treated to great power and sensitivity from the baton of Edward Gardner. The silences were silent, the quiet passages quiet, and the loud passages with the chorus came over with huge force.
This new production by Jonathan Kent starts in the overture with a little girl being put to bed by her father Daland the sea captain. She dreams of the sea … the wild, windy sea, shown in video projections designed by Nina Dunn. Then as the opera gets underway we see huge designs by Paul Brown filling the stage from top to bottom, with lighting by Mark Henderson embracing the video effects and giving beautiful colour changes during Daland’s lyrical dialogue with his daughter, when salvation beckons.
In the end when the Dutchman chides his would-be saviour, Senta for her apparent unfaithfulness he silently vanishes from the party throng, she smashes a bottle . . . and it’s all over. She dies and he is redeemed.
James Creswell as the Dutchman exhibited superb restraint and nobility, both in voice and stage presence, and with Clive Bayley portraying Daland as an engagingly earnest father to Senta, this was a cast rich in wonderful bass tones. At the higher register, Stuart Skelton was a brilliant Erik, the young man in love with Senta. He is a star in the ENO firmament. As Senta herself, Orla Boylan gave a somewhat uneven vocal performance with some strong moments but a flaccid stage-presence.
The Dutchman has been wandering the planet for countless years, and in Jonathan Kent’s production we see him dressed in a costume from two hundred years ago, contrasting with the girls working in a modern assembly shop where a costume party turns wild, threatening a gang rape of Senta . . . but suddenly the Dutchman’s ghostly crew sing powerfully from off-stage, scaring the living daylights out of the revellers. This is the same director who has produced Sweeney Todd now playing in the West End, so perhaps a bit of the Sweeney darkness has invaded Wagner, but that’s no bad thing, and the chorus carried it off superbly. They were wonderful.
The Flying Dutchman is the first of Wagner’s operas in the regular canon of ten, and this was the first time Edward Gardner has conducted any of them. I look forward to more!
Performances continue until May 23 — for details click here.