The Flying Dutchman, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, 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.

All images by Robert Workman

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.

Clive Bayley as Daland

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.

Entrance of the Dutchman

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.

Senta at the party

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.

2 Responses to “The Flying Dutchman, English National Opera, ENO, London Coliseum, April 2012”

  1. Chris says:

    This blog is the first place I come after a performance, partly for the great pictures which sit on my iPhone as a reminder, partly because it’s great reading a review by someone with similar taste and knowledge to me. For once I have to disagree. The orchestra was absolutely excellent but there was something about it that didn’t work, maybe just the decision to stage it as a continuous, single act. I struggled to stay awake at some points and a few people did fall asleep and had to be nudged awake.

    • markronan says:

      You raise an interesting point, Chris. Wagner originally conceived it in a single act, but after it was turned down he elaborated it into three acts to be played without a break. However, in the Dresden premiere I believe it was given in three discrete acts. In Bayreuth this summer they have a new production that I shall report on, and probably like all Bayreuth Holländer productions it will be given without a break.

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