Wagner's Flying Dutchman: a grand tale of sex, death and the supernatural
The Flying Dutchman
By Richard Wagner
Conductor: Wyn Davies
Director: Matthew Lutton
NZ Opera, A co-production with Opera Queensland
Aotea Centre, The Edge
Like so much art and literature of the 19th century the Flying Dutchman is a tale of the supernatural, the conflicts between Nature and the individual, and finding some sort of redemption through a melding of the cerebral, the physical and the spiritual. It delves into the same concepts as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
The opera can be seen as an outline of Wagner’s ideas about religion and society and the search for truth along with a quest for true love. In his later operas that search for love moves from the individual search to a cosmic and mythological quest.
The Flying Dutchman follows the fortunes of The Dutchman who has been cursed by himself as well as the devil to wander the world on his boat until he finds a woman who will love him. Every seven years he is allowed onto land to see if that woman exists.
He makes an arrangement with Daland, a ship’s captain who sells his daughter, Senta to The Dutchman. She has had a fixation on the sailor’s story all her life and despite being engaged to Erik she elects to marry The Dutchman. However, he realises she is not fully committed to him and leaves with his ghostly crew. Senta throws herself into the sea and the two are united in the spirit world.
Baritone Jason Howard, as The Dutchman, created some electrifying moments from his opening “The Time is up” to his final “Once more to the sea”. He provided a brilliantly flawed character with a dramatic intensity. His urgent rumbling voice, which took on the quality of the roiling sea from whence he came, conveyed both his otherworldly and human dimensions.
Peter Auty in the role of Erik provided a well nuanced character, expressing a realism of emotion which contrasted with that of Senta and The Dutchman.
Shaun Dixon’s Steerman had a bright lyric voice while Paul Whelan singing the part of Daland was impressive in conveying the conflicting emotions of the character.
However, it was Senta, sung by soprano Orla Boylan, who provided the strongest performance with a surreal intensity along with superb vocal control and articulation. Her singing about the arrival of the ship was a passionate and desperate account of her obsession with The Dutchman.
The set design was impressive and imposing, particularly the huge sail which is the main curtain along with the huge wall which became the Dutchman’s ship.
The male chorus in the first act cramped cabin was effective in providing a sense of claustrophobia and menace while the second act featuring the female chorus was effective with the women constructing their perfect males out of mannequins and suits rather then the traditional sail-sewing routine.
As in all Wagner opera’s it is the music that really conveys the emotional strength of the work and under Wyn Davie's baton provided a thrilling sound to their performance.