Monday, 30 April 2012

The Flying Dutchman, ENO

With the Royal Opera's static but imposing production design still occupying my memory of Wagner's opera, I was rather keen that Jonathan Kent's new Flying Dutchman for ENO shouldn't take itself too seriously. By the end like everyone else I'd thoroughly enjoyed myself, if not totally understood everything that I'd seen.

An interestingly staged prologue during the overture, culminating in a brilliant coup of video projection* suggests the overt psychodrama that Kent is looking to stage. The only hitch with this otherwise carefully followed-through conceit is with the Dutchman himself, a Byronically hirsute James Creswell, whom all the cast beside Senta ignore as if transparent - a phantasm, a genuine invention of her imagination. Despite this, it's impossible for Clive Bayley's comically venal Daland to ignore the man, given his dealings with him. For all the meticulously indicated relationship between Daland and Senta its difficult to see how this commuted act of imagination is explained.

The idea's good though and certainly substantiates the rest of the staging. The chorus men look more like miners than sailors, engine room stokers perhaps (the point is that their working class is preserved in the updating) and the women make souvenirs, sewing sails for toys rather than the real things. This works terrifically right up to and including the extended final, hilario-horrorshow party scene, like a cheap hen & stag collision on Friday night in a parochial town. The chorus are magnificent in this production, completely committed to the staging and singing mightily. The first shanty-chorus for the men goes for broke with the tenors lined up front downstage, like a big gun on a destroyer. The sound alone removes all worry I'd brought about the memory of a fine Royal Opera chorus fogging my experience. Chorus mistress Francine Merry should be pleased. My one caveat would be the amplified off-stage chorus. An aesthetic decision, surely, but nonetheless I can't help hearing 'unexpected item in bagging area' when the sound is not acoustic.

The principal singing is uniformly good too. I acclimatised to Clive Bayley with the recent Hoffmann and one can luxuriate in not only the sound but the articulation of the delivery. ENO continue to do fine basses, sympathetic to text and staging alike. Orla Boylan and Creswell both took on the considerable - and increasing - Atlantic swell of the music with ease but I like the fact that Stuart Skelton's equally robust Erik was somehow more landlocked, ardent in love but confused by his imagination's inability to follow Senta's fantasy either in narrative or compassion. Robert Murray's beautiful Steerman gave way to some raucous partying later on and one must also mention the sure contribution of Susanna Tudor-Thomas stitching together the nicely judged women's chorus (lots of extra vocal interjections) prior to Senta's dream. The orchestra are present, punchy and alert for Edward Gardner. A successful evening and a worthwhile outing for a slippery opera.

*Designer = Nina Dunn for Knifedge - sorry to not credit in the first draft of this blog post

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