Der fliegende Holländer – Terfel, Pieczonka, Köning, Rose, Lyon, Wyn-Rogers, 20th February 2015 The Royal Opera House

I came away from this Dutchman feeling entertained, which is all I demand as a minimum from performances.

Veterans and more knowledgeable friends declared it a bit of a snoozefest. At the end, I was “thumbs up”-ing to my friend in Lower slips, whilst he was fervently thumbs downing. Later, we discussed.

I reproduce his tweets here:

For my part, it was an enjoyable evening. I don’t get the chance to hear live Wagner too much, and this was a welcome chance to hear this fine score again.* The opening overture set to the rippling grey curtain didn’t quite thrill, I will admit. I would have prefered either curtain or even -gasp- a video projection of a storm-tossed ship. One’s eye is initially caught by the rippling effect, but the interest in that visual not sustained.

In costume and in small part in manner, Bryn Terfel was a little more Captain Birdseye than spectral Dutchman, but clever blocking and direction allowed him to dominate the stage at certain moments. especially in the Brokengespenst-type effect offered by his entry from his ship in Act III and in his appearance for the first time to Senta.

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Terfel’s Dutchman

Though the libretto suggests sublime forces, I am not sure Terfel fully found their expression. He took a little while to get into things, and came across at all times rather avuncular. I would have preferred a slightly more aloof and dangerous man, but so be it. He did a good job, and wasn’t terrible. As above, I was un-offended by any acting here, and enjoyed his interpretation in the main.
In his singing itself, Terfel has a tendency to my ear to “squeeze” phrases – the notes seeming overly nasal or constricted at the start of some lines, and when developing longer sung syllables, a habit which I found slightly distracting at times. I am still not sure Wagner is entirely for him, though he clearly is for Wagner.

Adrianne Pieczonka made a fine Senta. I was impressed by her singing, she had no trouble both with the demands of the role. Senta’s ballad (Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an) and the soaring lines of Wie aus der Ferne längst vergang’ner Zeiten were well given, and that aria well mixed with Terfel. In singing the former, Pieczonka lit a candle and sung, and this was a rather touching moment, she seemed to be fulling invested in the moment. A range of emotions passed over her face as she considered the mystery of the Dutchman. Very affecting.

Addrianne Pieczonka

Adrianne Pieczonka as Senta

The chorus were on good form, the strongest I have heard them for some time. Ghosts and shipmen all sounded fine as a body (though why many directors insist that their supernumeraries must variously tumble or cavort onto the stage as here, is beyond me). The women’s spinning chorus Summ und brumm, du gutes Rädchen is guaranteed to stick in the ear for a while after, and was here accompanied by some distinctively ropey spinning technique, and from those who did pump their footpedals, some very creaky squeaky sounds too! A bit of WD40 needed her for the machines, methinks, but not so much for the voices, which were good.

 Bryn Terfel, with Adrianne Pieczonka, in 'Der Fliegende Hollander' at the Royal Opera House  Photo: Alastair Muir


Bryn Terfel, with Adrianne Pieczonka, in ‘Der Fliegende Hollander’ at the Royal Opera House Photo: Alastair Muir

Staging was clever if a little perfunctory, insasmuch as it didn’t change much (a clever economy) and when it did, did so fairly ingeniously. The use of water was well employed, the drip dripping onto the captive water pan at front of the stage actually serving to induce tension, where it was in moments a little lacking onstage. Rather like his kinsman though, the Ancient Mariner, here was a surfeit of water, and audible, which probably played havoc with some bladders in this 2.5 hours of opera played with no interval.

I have only a few quibbles really: why Senta must wave around a model ship and doesn’t die in the end. Why Dutchman doesn’t die/find redemption in heaven, and why it looked like the whole thing was set in 1976.

Pleased to report though, that these quibbles aside and rather like the Dutchman’s ship, the evening flew by.

Another solid 8/10.

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Obligatory terrible phonecam pic

Small Twitter roundup:

For those thinking about watching this in the cinema, for what it is worth, I recommend it.

*My seat in Amphi side left did somewhat skew the sound mix though, the strings considerably dampened.

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