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Sunday 23 October 2011

ROH: Der fliegende Holländer

Sitting in the amphitheatre I have to say that this was one of the most starkly beautiful productions I've seen at the Royal Opera House. The opening curtain, a slowly waving blue sheet with light projected through a waterfall hidden behind the sheet is really maybe the most beautiful thing I've ever seen on that stage. The actual stage when it is revealed, the exterior of a ship hull, made concave, is bold and lovely (and very well lit throughout), the simple placement of ropes which cast curving shadows across it make for another understatedly beautiful scene. Then the factory spinning scene again makes a strong visual impact, set designer Michael Levine and lighting designer David Finn working wonderfully together here and throughout.

We've been so lucky for beautiful Wagner stagings this year in the south of England - as well as this, the also stark, but visually arresting ROH Tannhauser and the wonderful Glyndebourne Meistersinger. The ENO Parsifal was less visually alluring, though it had its moments.

Where this production fails a bit is in making clear the strangenesses of Wagner's story - and the metaphysical side of Wagner's intentions are rarely if ever explored - as it stands its just presented as ghost/love story which means it's sometimes a bit hard to swallow. The love triangle seems a bit of a forced way of adding drama to the situation, and none of the characters change throughout the drama. It's not unenjoyable, just is sometimes a bit unbelievable character wise (I'm full aware that this story is fairly unbelievable as it is). I never once felt bored though and the pacing is great, always ramping up to that fantastic climactic scene.

Musically I thought it was very strong. An extremely good cast has been assembled here. Egils Silins makes a magnificent sounding Dutchman, the huge voice rounded and clear, and not a hint of wobble. Anja Kampe made a wonderful Senta, vocally at least. Again it's a large voice, but also extremely beautiful, glamorous and lovely, with the floating timbre of a lyric, and a powerful chest register. Her ballad aria was superbly sung - she has the technique to be equally beguiling in the loudest and most intimate passages, unlike so many Wagner singers. Only in the highest top notes did she have a little difficulty, and occasionally sounded a little strained and slightly flat. But no matter, it's a superb voice. Unfortunately she did not move well on stage, looking always rather dowdy and awkward in her actions. Her jealous lover Erik was played by Endrik Wottrich who I found disappointing as Florestan in last season's Fidelio, but was here in brilliant voice, the burnished sound not showing a hint of strain or stridency, sounding always manful and heroic. Really ideal then: he'd surely be a great Siegfried - he seemed underutilised here! John Tessier's lyric tenor made for a beautiful Steersman's song and Stephen Milling made an equally good Daland.

I have been a Jeffrey Tate fan ever since hearing his magnificent Te Kanawa Arabella, and the clarity, detail and warmth of his approach shone through here, even if it was slow to get started. The orchestra didn't once cover the singers (without sacrificing impact) which is so rare that it comes as a real surprise when it does happen - Tate is clearly extremely concerned with his singers and presenting them in the best light. Such a shame that he has not conducted here for so long, and lets hope he is engaged again by the ROH soon. The orchestra were on generally good form, warming up with Tate towards the end. The chorus were sounding on absolute top form too, so powerful and vital. The spooky bit where the ghost sailors appear had them errupting from under ground was an amazing moment vocally and visually.

Very enjoyable, and I hope to go again.

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