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Wagner, Der Fliegende Holländer: (New Production Premiere) Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Welsh National Opera / Carlo Rizzi, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff 17.2.2006 (BK)






The Dutchman: Bryn Terfel
Senta: Annalena Persson
Eric: Ian Storey
Daland: Gidon Saks
The Steersman: Peter Wedd

Mary: Mary Lloyd-Davies

Conductor: Carlo Rizzi
Chorus Master: Donald Nally
Director: David Pountney
Assistant Director: Nicola Raab
Designer: Robert Innes Hopkins
Lighting: Jürgen Hoffmann
Video Artists: Jane and Louise Wilson

the Dutchman Jim, but not as we know it - despite a real galaxy of talent. With the idea that only the universe can convey eternity, David Pountney sets the opera on a space station. More Solaris than Star Trek in conception (but with James T. Kirk's misogyny included) the place confuses everyday realities.


Mr. Pountney's Senta is a spoilt adolescent, spending her time drawing giant eyes obsessively. 'One certainly doesn't have any sympathy for Senta,' Mr Pountney says in his programme notes,...'If she hadn't found the Dutchman, she'd have found religion. She's at the stage of her life where she has erected (sic) an erotic substitute and ...she decides to run off with this bohemian stranger. She has the missionary bug as well and wants to save him.'


No finer feelings for Senta here then and misogyny runs through the whole production. There's a suggestion of incest between Senta and Daland and Eric is a manipulative loser whose message is clearly 'Leave me, and I'll kill myself.' By Act III, the women have been dressed up as Barbie dolls and are gang-raped by the spacemen sailors. Your salt-sprayed romance, this is not.



If the sets imply alienating illusion then they certainly make a job of it. Beneath a platform of girders and scaffolding, converging screens show video clips of a cosmonaut training camp in Kazakhstan or else giant blow-ups of The Dutchman and Senta's faces. The screens open and close relentlessly to reveal women plaiting fibre optic cables, whirling inner sets with random furnishings and even more back projections of the camp or the faces in which the nostrils seem excessively prominent. The Dutchman's treasure seems to consist of Russian telephones and his deliverance, when it arrives, is a parched desert scene like the Trinity bomb site.


Metaphor stretched this far gets to snapping very quickly and the sets change so often that the result is dizzying. The singers look bewildered and though the Dutchman finds Senta after infinite voyaging, their meeting is based on delusion, without human ideal or sacrifice. They sing their Act II duet miles apart and don't dare look at each other, not even for a second. Their projected images do that for them and we can hardly help but get the point. Even so, it's tedious.



Which is a minor tragedy because the singing is phenomenal. Bryn Terfel is a commanding Dutchman, showing once again his aptitude for Wagner and his deserved special status among singers. Annalena Persson is equally beguiling - hers is another effortless voice, capable of anything asked of it - and she's a fine actress too, both vocally and physically, coping easily with Senta's spoiled brat character. Gidon Saks (Daland) and Peter Wedd (Steersman) were also in good fettle vocally on Friday although Ian Storey's Eric felt slightly under-powered.


The WNO chorus sang with tremendous energy and Carlo Rizzi's conducting (after a less than thrilling overture) was steady and safe enough, though hardly electrifying.


But this straight-through performance (there are no intervals as Wagner intended) is a must for all opera lovers. Listening with closed eyes may be helpful.


Bill Kenny

Pictures ©Clive Barda 2006

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