Der Fliegende Holländer

The Flying Dutchman‘Der Fliegende Holländer ’ or ‘The Flying Dutchman’ at the Royal Opera House, Convent Garden
Monday 9th February, 2015

‘My longing is for release:
O that it might come about through an angel like this!’

The time is the 17th century and the place is the Norwegian coast. ‘The Flying Dutchman’ tells the tale of the legendary, accursed phantom ship doomed to sail the oceans forever. The sole chance of salvation for the sea captain, the Dutchman, comes every seven years when the cruel gods allow him to go ashore to search for a woman who can be forever faithful to him, but any straying will condemn her to eternal damnation. His chance comes, however, when he meets Daland, ( Peter Rose), a sea captain; who is remarkably willing to offer his daughter Senta in exchange for the Dutchman’s riches.

The Dutchman is powerfully sung by the dark bass-baritone- brooding Bryn Terfel, though I have to admit I found the Dutchman’s moody complaints a bit wearisome.
Though the Canadian soprano, Adrianne Pieczonka is a tour de force as Senta , I expected a lusty performance to radiate the stage. Playing a young woman who is unhealthily obsessed with a ghostly legend, she does, however, manage to avoid histrionics and melodrama, maintaining a demure, introverted feminine presence. One of the brighter and most welcome parts of the performance is the chorus: the sailors, both real and spectral, give a gritty performance which heightens the tempo; and the women’s sewing machine ensemble is superb. The tenor, Michael König as Erik who almost wins Senta back, lacks weight in his Act III aria.
The ending is less satisfactory. The composer wrote that Senta throws herself into the sea, after which the curse is broken, the Dutchman’s ship sinks and the couple are seen rising heavenward. Instead, Senta is left alone on shore, breaking down and clutching the model ship which has fuelled all her fantasies. The mini model ship, though, sometimes feels like a prop too far. The music deserves something more dramatic.
Dark, gothic abstract staging with ropes, ladder and bridges suggest a huge cargo ship and later, a sewing factory, designed by Michael Levine, add a contrast between the real and elemental.
Despite the lengthy, plunging overture which promises so much, Wagner’s Opera is an unremittingly dark, brooding, melodramatic tale of the redemptive power of love. At two and a half hours this is one of Wagner’s shortest works; but since it is played without an interval, it actually requires a long period of sustained concentration. As a result, Wagner makes one feel that he was not a man who liked being interrupted.
Opera fans love a good tragedy, of course, but the arias in Dutchman tend to draw more sighs than tears. Hard core Wagner fans, as the standing ovation attests, are just fine with this.