Sunday, March 10, 2024

Bryn Terfel’s Flying Dutchman is a character of tragic dimensions

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Bryn Terfel’s Flying Dutchman is a character of tragic dimensions

The singer excels in this revival of Wagner’s work at the Royal Opera House, London

According to legend, the Flying Dutchman has been cursed to roam the seas and only puts into port every seventh year. His visits to the Royal Opera House have been more frequent — this is the fourth since the current production debuted in 2009 — but then the opera is Wagner’s shortest, a single act in this version, and probably his least financially onerous.

A mainstay has been Bryn Terfel, in the title role from the original cast and missing only one revival. The years have passed for him, as they have for the Dutchman, but he remains a vivid central focus for the drama. Although the way he pumps words with colour and emphasis has become exaggerated, Terfel gets more out of the role than anybody else. His Dutchman is no passive wanderer, but a man wracked by frustration, angst, longing and regret, a character of tragic dimensions.
It takes a singer of Terfel’s bountiful gifts to add life to Tim Albery’s utilitarian production. After so many centuries of wandering the seas, maybe it is not surprising that the Dutchman should finally have cast anchor in the 1970s at an empty harbour kitchen with two hard, upright chairs and a single lightbulb. The production style looks dated now, but Albery’s handling of the drama remains sure-footed.
Everything still works here, even if this is far from the production’s best cast. Elisabet Strid seems to be rising through the ranks of Wagnerian singers and sings Senta with good musicianship and gleaming soprano tone, except at the very top where the sound turns shrill. She also displays less strength in the middle voice than the biggest Wagner roles will demand.
In the years since Albery’s production was new, roles for women in opera have come under increasing scrutiny and Senta is surely one of the most objectionable. Here is a young woman bartered away by her father for the price of a few bracelets to a man she has never seen, and who wants her simply as a mechanism to release himself from his suffering. “I know well the sacred duty of a woman,” sings Senta grimly. At the end, Albery’s production saves her from throwing herself into the sea, but leaves her marooned on land, alone, cradling her model ship.
Strid’s less-gutsy-than-usual Senta makes Toby Spence’s very-light-voiced Erik sound less implausible than he might otherwise. Stephen Milling makes a bluff Daland, a touch less strong vocally than before. Miles Mykkanen is effective as the Steersman, Kseniia Nikolaieva warm-toned, but with few audible words, as Mary.
A large part of the evening’s success comes from the power of the much-bolstered chorus, with the men positioned to acoustic advantage under a low ceiling in the final scene, and the decisive conducting of Henrik Nánási, who drives the opera home with old-fashioned theatrical punch. There is probably enough life in this show for it to come around once more before the production’s final journey is up.
To March 16,