Monday, 30 April 2012

Wagner, THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, Coliseum, 28 April 2012


English National Opera, London Coliseum, 28 April 2012

Daland, a Norwegian Sailor                      CLIVE BAYLEY

Senta, his daughter                                    ORLA BOYLAN

Erik, in love with Senta                              STUART SKELTON

Mary, works supervisor                             SUSANNA TUDOR-THOMAS

The Steersman                                         ROBERT MURRAY

The Dutchman                                         JAMES CRESSWELL

The child Senta                                       AOIFE CHECKLAND

Chorus and orchestra of English National Opera

Conductor                                                                             EDWARD GARDNER
Director                                                                                 JONATHAN KENT

The performance opened with a very thrilling account of the overture, conveying a vivid sense of the storm battering the ships on the sea (except the Dutchman's, of course!) and waves crashing on the shore...moving on to the poignancy of Senta's motif. The ENO under Edward Gardner (this is his first time conducting Wagner) gave of their best.

When the curtain rises,  about a third of the way through the overture, we see the child Senta in her bedroom - typical little girl's bedroom, decorated in pink!! (I would imagine the designer, Paul Brown, has daughters....) She tries on her father's sea-boots...then when he comes to say goodnight to her before going to sea, he gives her a portrait of the Dutchman.

I liked this way of depicting the 'back-story' of the drama, but wasn't sure at first  whether it was appropriate to depict the entire first Scene (it was performed without an interval) as the child Senta's dream.  As the image illustrates, the violence of the storm was depicted almost realistically on the stage, while the child sits up in bed brooding over the image of the Dutchman. It all takes place in her dream, then - the Dutchman is a projection of her needs, just  .as she is a projection of his.

Clive Bayley as Daland perhaps slightly overdid the characterisation of the bluff, hearty sailor, but this worked well in contrast with the figure of the Dutchman - James Cresswell as a Byronic hero with brooding, saturnine good looks!

Because this is Senta's dream, the Dutchman first appears curled up on her bed, and then rises to deliver his monologue.

 Creswell's voice is well-suited to the role of the mysterious outsider - perhaps he looks more like a 'romantic' hero than one might expect of the Flying Dutchman, but it fits with the overall concept, and he sounded beautifully lyrical in the scene with Daland.....who is often criticised for being willing to 'sell his daughter for money', but one could turn this on its head and argue that he wants to make an advantageous match for her, as any prudent father would (like Giorgio Germont, for instance!!) 
Wagner gives Daland an abrupt, jerky melody (Wie? Hoert' ich recht? Meine Tochter sein Weib?), while the Dutchman's lament for his fate (Ach, ohne Weib, ohne Kind bin ich...) soars lyrically over this.

At the end of the scene, the child finally disappears and the adult Senta (Orla Boylan) replaces her on the bed. She gets up and gets dressed, then she goes to join the other girls in the factory, where they are making ships in bottles. Why not? The Spinning Chorus is only a device to set the scene and prepare for Senta's Ballad. I loved the idea of Mary (Susanna Tudor-Thomas) as a brassy works supervisor! Senta doesn't get on with the other girls, they mock her obsession with the picture of the mysterious stranger, and even while she sings the ballad they are making faces behind her back or just ignoring her. She sings it with fierce commitment, I think Wagner needs the soprano sound to be piercing here, and then more mellow in the scene with the Dutchman.

Meanwhile, Stuart Skelton succeeded admirably in the thankless task of trying to make Erik interesting. In this production he's a security guard, referred to disparagingly by the girls as an 'office boy'.

He sings with heartfelt sincerity and beautiful phrasing -  but who is going to listen to the office boy she's known all her life when she can dream about a mysterious stranger, who has suffered and whom she can perhaps save!!

And then - her dream comes true! She hardly notices her father, she and the Dutchman are mesmerised, staring at each other - and Daland finally notices and takes himself off. The scene between them is the heart of the matter, of course.....each sees in the other the fulfilment they have been dreaming of. The emphasis has been on the Dutchman as a figment of Senta's imagination - but, as I indicated above, it could equally well be that she is a projection of his needs. What they are expressing is  his need for redemption and her need to redeem him.

When Daland returns, he does a little dance of triumph while bright, cheerful, jolly (er, trivial?!) music breaks in on the brooding solemnity of the duet - they have been in another, 'inner' world and now they are - or at least Senta is - brought back to everyday life again. (I don't suppose the Dutchman has much recollection of what everyday life is!) A wedding ceremony takes place and then the scene changes to a drunken party...during which the sailors (most of them in fancy dress) bully Senta and almost come to the point of raping her. The girls do nothing to help her. (The Dutchman has disappeared by this time).

Why would they do this? Why would they bully their captain's daughter, as they seem to have quite a good relationship with him? It doesn't make much sense dramatically in the light of what has gone before - but when the Dutchman's crew start their spine-chilling song (we never see them, just hear the ghostly chorus), Daland's sailors run away and Senta is left alone on the stage, doing an ecstatic dance - so it seems as though she regards her marriage to the mysterious stranger as HER redemption as well.

The staging of the ending was rather disappointing - the Dutchman disappears through a trapdoor and Senta  breaks a bottle and stabs herself with a shard of glass and - that's it!  But the music contradicts this and tells us that both Senta and the Dutchman have achieved the redemption they sought.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a compelling production, except for the attempted rape part, which sounds like typical Eurotrash. It certainly sounds better than the dull, drab 19th century-dress production that served as my introduction to the opera when I was 14!