Founded as recently as 2010, NI Opera is amply fulfilling its aims of producing high quality opera and developing young Northern Irish talent with this ambitious full-scale staging of Wagner’s early masterpiece in his bicentenary year. Company artistic director Oliver Mears directs alongside the gifted young conductor Nicholas Chalmers. Designer Simon Holdsworth presents a concentrated vision of the piece, the vital element of the stormy sea cleverly sketched in during the overture and the rigidly conventional world from which heroine Senta longs to escape brought vividly to life later on. After a slow start, Mears’ staging grows ever more absorbing and delivers the goods thrillingly in the later scenes.
The central roles are all impressively sung. Bruno Caproni struggles to suggest the Dutchman’s full inner darkness, but vocally his large-scale singing fits the bill. Stephen Richardson has some way to go to develop the full potential of Senta’s jovially money-grubbing father Daland, while Paul McNamara conquers intermittent vocal insecurities to present huntsman Erik - Senta’s rejected local lover - effectively. But Giselle Allen’s Senta strikes home on all fronts, her authoritative, nuanced and grandly shaped vocalism matching a dramatic performance of considerable intensity.
There’s vigorous work, too, from the company’s chorus, whose commitment is unstinting. The Ulster Orchestra is in the pit, giving, under Chalmers’ baton, a solidly convincing account of Wagner’s potent early-Romantic score, flooding the theatre with its heady emotional charge. The piece sounds superb in the fine acoustic of Frank Matcham’s glamorous late-Victorian auditorium, where the rising company is based and from which it is clearly going places.