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Der Fliegende Hollander review at Longborough Festival Opera – ‘beautifully played but dramatically inert’

Simon Thorpe in Der Fliegende Hollander at Longborough Festival Opera. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis Simon Thorpe in Der Fliegende Hollander at Longborough Festival Opera. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis

In Wagner’s Der Fliegende Hollander, the ‘romantic wanderer’ figure takes on a supernatural element. The titular sea-captain is condemned to sail the oceans in a state of limbo. Every seven years he is cast ashore; if he then finds a woman who pledges to be faithful to him, the curse will be lifted.

Thomas Guthrie’s new production gives no inkling of the Dutchman’s and his prospective wife Senta’s need for each other (she has become fixated with him as a legendary figure). The stand-and-deliver approach is often executed such as to choke any meaningful interaction between the characters. This also goes for the earlier scene between Senta’s father Daland and the Dutchman. Here Daland (sung by Richard Wiegold) struggles to project any expression of character or feeling, while the Dutchman (Simon Thorpe) lacks presence and, in lower writing, occasionally veers off-course like his fateful vessel.

Erik (Jonathan Stoughton, singing through an illness) sounded tired by Act III, but William Wallace sings the Steersman with power, if with a too-Italianate ring. Kirstin Sharpin is vocally in control as Senta, but Carolyn Dobbin’s Mary has the most beautiful voice: a brief but delicious encounter for the ear.

Despite the wooden presentation, there are some nice touches to the production. Miniature chocolate-box houses, lit from within, convey a calm community disrupted by the new arrivals; the painted backdrops are atmospherically lit; and there’s an innovative stroke in the song of the Dutchman’s’ ghostly crew being prerecorded and heard over a transistor radio.

The chorus is fresh and stimulating especially in Act III and the playing in the pit, under British Wagnerian Anthony Negus, is gutsy and disciplined, especially in the strings. But for them the lack of heart elsewhere would be hard to stomach.

Verdict
Dramatically inert new production saved by the orchestra under veteran Wagner interpreter Anthony Negus
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