6 May 2012

The Flying Dutchman at ENO

My attempt to get in to the habit of going to ENO in the same way that I go to Glyndebourne continued with The Flying Dutchman.

I made something of a day of by going to see some exhibitions at RIBA in the afternoon, meeting some friends in The Chandos just off Trafalgar Square before moving on to eat at Cotes (booked ahead because you need to).

I seem to have settled in to the Upper Circle, in fact I am not sure that I have ever sat anywhere else.

The view from here is excellent (I really do not understand why people choose to sit in the stalls) and if you sit near the front the price is high enough to keep the worst of the talkers, eaters and drinkers away.

But not necessarily women wearing bangles.

Checking the times on arrival revealed that there would be no interval which I prefer and which seems to be a growing trend. If the cast and set do not need a break then adding an artificial one to get money from drinks and ice creams is a little cynical.

I am not a great Wagner fan and I had only seen two of his operas previously, both at Glyndebourne, so had no great expectations or preconceptions.

The opera opens with a young girl in her bed playing with a model boat while images of waves play on the thin screen at the front of the stage.

The waves grew in size and menace as the music grew in intensity until both fell away.

The audience clapped. And while they clapped the CGI I purposely put my head in my hands and slowly shook it. Is it time that opera goers were given behaviour guides?

The bed moves away and the bedroom becomes a ship, a ship in a storm. The captain sees the storm as little more than an inconvenience that blows them a little off their route when they were so close to home.

As the storm eases another ship approaches and we are introduced to The Flying Dutchman and we hear how he has been dammed to roam the seas with no hope of death.

In his many travels over many years he has accumulated a fortune and offers this to the captain for his daughter's hand in marriage. He agrees.

The scene then moves to onshore where we find the Captain's daughter, now a young woman, at work.

The mood changes from the dark malevolent sea to a playful workplace. I found this to be a little incongruous with the story and the music.

Soon the ship is sighted and the women in the factory flock to the harbour meet their returning men, the Captain introduces his daughter to the Dutchman who repeats his tale and the story draws towards its inevitable conclusion.

Though what this is somewhat blurred by the production that having moved reasonably nicely towards the ending then sprints to it along an unusual route that is hard to follow and leaves you rather flat.

Another review commented that the production sought to mimic elements of popular musical theatre to the detriment of the story, and I agree.


On the positive side, the music and singing were good.and sometimes better than that. The Dutchman was magnificent and was well supported for the most part. One voice I found to be a little weak but that was one fairly minor role early on.

In the end the music just about wins through and the overblown and confusing production can be forgiven.

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