Wagner passes with Flying colours.
REVIEW Production: The Flying Dutchman by Opera North Venue: Leeds Town Hall Reviewer: Ron Simpson .. ..
GENERAL Director of Opera North Richard Mantle tellingly describes 2015 as the company's'Wagnerian gap year.' Over the last four years Richard Farnes has conducted highly acclaimed semi-staged performances of the individual operas of the Ring Cycle and in 2016 the company moves on to the full cycle. In the meantime Farnes, the orchestra, the chorus and several of the principals keep in trim with The Flying Dutchman.
Despite a high-quality performance, culminating in a stupendous final act, this suffers by not being the Ring. For a start, a company of the size of Opera North would find a fully staged Ring cycle out of the question, but a Flying Dutchman falls within its resources. Indeed, there was a very serviceable production some 30 years ago. So Peter Mumford's projections - which successfully involved us in the mythic world of gods and heroes - appear rather tame and repetitive as the acting and surtitles convey the meaning sufficiently.
Even Richard Farnes' conducting, so revelatory and sure-footed, seems to want the opera to be more weighty than it is. The orchestral playing is, as always, superbly detailed, but Act 1 - and to an extent Act 2 - would benefit from more momentum, though the blazing intensity of Act 3 compensates in no small measure.
Outstanding in a fine cast of principals is Bela Perencz's Dutchman. A past and future Wotan with Opera North, he has the presence and the vocal resources to compel attention even in a semi-staged production.
Adding subtlety of vocal colour to power and richness of tone, he has the stamina to produce heroic singing in a riveting final scene. Mats Almgren as Daland, the sea captain who wishes to marry the Dutchman off to his daughter, is by comparison somewhat monochrome, but this is another powerful performance, combining stage presence with true Wagnerian delivery. Alwyn Mellor as Senta, his daughter, rather mature and sensible for the girlish fantasies about marrying the Dutchman, initially seems rather uninvolved, but she has all the notes and catches fire in the great duets with the Dutchman and her former boyfriend, Erik. Mati Turi's Erik is as stalwart a performance as you would expect from the company's Siegfried - and he finds a pleasing lyricism, too. Ceri Williams' forthright Mary (Senta's nurse) and Mark Le Brocq's sweet-voiced Steersmen are both good value and the Chorus, excellent throughout, gives the evening lift-off with the celebratory/eerie/dramatic sequence at the start of Act 3. Though it is undoubtedly not what Wagner would have wanted, these semi-stagings have shown how effective it can be to foreground the orchestra and once again the superb playing Richard Farnes elicits makes us regret his departure from Leeds after the 2016 Ring Cycle.
Further performances of The Flying Dutchman follow at Leeds Town Hall (June 30), Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (July 8) and Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham (July 11).
The Flying Dutchman is terrific entertainment without the weight of the Ring