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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der Fliegende Holländer
Dutchman – Samuel Youn
Senta – Ingela Brimberg
Daland – Kwangchul Youn
Erik – Nikolai Schukoff
Mary – Kai Rüütel
Steersman – Benjamin Bruns
Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro Real de Madrid/Pablo Heras-Casado
Alex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus) (stage director)
rec. live. Teatro Real de Madrid, 2016
Region Code: 0; Aspect Ratio 16:9; DTS 5.1
HARMONIA MUNDI HMD9809060.61 Blu-ray & DVD [144 mins]

Musically, this Flying Dutchman is very good. The cast of singers, for a start, are properly excellent. Samuel Youn makes a forceful, world-weary Dutchman who summons up singing of great power in his opening scene and embodies the tragic heroism of the character as well as anyone I’ve seen. In one of its few successful ideas, Alex Ollé’s visual picture sets him apart in a blueish-green light which underlines not only his ghostliness but also his loneliness, and that sense of a man apart comes across in singing of power and heft. He is matched by bass singing from Kwangchul Youn that is every bit as powerful, but much more humane and identifiable. His Daland remains a venal old codger, but Youn sings him with rare nobility, and his exchange with the Dutchman in the first act is, unusually, one of the most gripping episodes in the opera, with two great bass-baritones sparring off against one another in a superb piece of musical theatre.

Likewise, Ingela Brimberg need fear comparisons with no other Senta on record. She sings the part with power, heroism and also great vocal beauty. Her key narration in Act 2 is full of the storyteller’s gift, and her duet with the Dutchman is magnificent. It serves as the pivot of the whole work, as well it should, and the chemistry between the two is wonderful; but she is also flawlessly accurate, and fearless in the blazing top notes she manages in the final scene. Nikolai Schukoff is an exciting, heroic Erik, and we get a nicely pingy Steersman from Benjamin Bruns.

In the pit, the orchestra of the Teatro Real play with Mediterranean sunlight but, more importantly, great beauty, showing that Madrid can more than hold its own as a Wagner house when compared with the Liceu. Only Pablo Heras-Casado lets the side down slightly. He isn’t a natural in Wagner, and his conducting is rather stop-start and episodic.

Much of his pacing is rushed through to get to the next scene so that the work’s internal architectural cohesion crumbles somewhat: for example, he disastrously squanders the climax of Senta’s duet with the Dutchman. However, there is a lot of potential there, and if he returns to it in a few years’ time he may well produce something really impressive.

The production is a bit of a pig’s ear, unfortunately. Alex Ollé, best known for his work with the revolutionary physical theatre company La Fura dels Baus, has good form in Wagner, contributing to the Valencia Ring that so impressed me (review). His central idea here is nothing like so successful, however. In his (singularly unconvincing) booklet essay, he writes on the one hand of embracing the work’s mythical, Romantic landscape and, on the other, asking whether it could happen now. His very tenuous solution is to set the opera in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong, famous for its huge ship breaking yard, and so the visual imagery of the staging contains some very unconvincing South Asian tableaux and an entirely unnecessary comparison of both the Dutchman’s crew and the ladies of the chorus with the poor who harvest parts from the dismantled ships. I found it very odd, and actually a little tasteless in places. However, there are some impressive visual projections for the storm scenes, more in the eye-popping vein that we have come to expect from La Fura dels Baus.

This, therefore, is one to listen to with the screen switched off; but if you do that then you’ll really like what you hear. The booklet is thin and there are no extras, but the handsome cardboard case includes both a BD and a DVD, which is generous. Picture and sound quality are excellent throughout.

Simon Thompson



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