Der fliegende Holländer

Simone Young
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
27 March 2000
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandKurt Moll
SentaSolveig Kringelborn
ErikKim Begley
MaryAnne Wilkens
Der Steuermann DalandsTimothy Robinson
Der HolländerBernd Weikl

It is not certain exactly when Wagner decided to turn the subject of the Flying Dutchman into an opera. His immediate inspiration seems to have been twofold: a telling of the Dutchman legend in a collection of fables by Heinrich Heine and a sea voyage that the young composer himself undertook which, because of a storm, cast him and his wife upon the shores of the Norwegian coast for a few days, that then eventually became the location for the opera’s setting. Interestingly though, far more readily than with the scenarios of Wagner’s subsequent nine music dramas, Hollander lends itself to a contemporaneous treatment – in the maritime community into which the mysterious Dutchman intrudes there’s a real sense of the Romantic Age meeting the Industrial head on, of sailing ships turning into steamers, of the wheels of fate metaphorically also driving a mechanistic new world.

Reviving his production first seen at Covent Garden eight years ago, director Ian Judge attempts to give some semblance of that turbulence. A swivelling platform cleverly forms the ground for all three acts, functioning as ship’s deck, factory floor and village square. Into each of the three settings too there symbolically and actually obtrudes the imposing bow of the Dutchman’s ghostly hulk. But having set his scenes Judge then still does little with them, except gyrate his high-tech platform around countless times. Dull costumes from Deirdre Clancy (the womens’ curiously seeming to date from about three centuries earlier than the mens’) and dingy lighting by Mark Henderson contribute little to either atmosphere or focus. Nicely reproduced Caspar David Friedrich paintings litter the programme booklet but are not alluded to in the stage picture. There’s hustle and bustle aplenty but they seem to conceal a hollowness, an interpretive void (surely this opera is about something?); and as such, at the end, give little inkling of the catharsis of redemption.

But also, it must be said, almost as beleaguered as the Dutchman himself seems to be the Royal Opera at present. Judge’s staging is deliberately geared towards the one-act version which Wagner’s later thoughts intended though he himself never got around to producing in his lifetime – it was first played without breaks at Bayreuth by his widow Cosima as late as 1901. Still, ongoing teething troubles with Covent Garden’s computerised cueing system entailed the present staging reverting to the three act version, replete with two lengthy intervals.

Then, Bryn Terfel should have originally sung his first Dutchman ever for the company but, alas, illness forced him to withdraw to be replaced by Bernd Weikl. And on first night at least Weikl was considerably below par, almost reciting as opposed to singing the part with forced and strangulated articulation. Solveig Kringelborn fares somewhat better as Senta though she too seems to struggle with sustained line and stamina. Kim Begley makes something of a mark with the thankless role of Erik and there’s a good Daland from the staunch Kurt Moll. Spirited (perhaps as opposed to polished) choral work just about rescues the vocal input. Orchestrally though things take a real nosedive. A usually assured Royal Opera Orchestra comes over as oddly scrappy under Simone Young’s frenetic baton, with the horns especially sounding as if they’re playing in a thunderstorm as opposed to evoking one. In fact on many levels the whole thing seems rather thrown together and ill-prepared.


Duncan Hadfield (rez. Aufführung 24. 3. 2000)

The Guardian

The inevitable question hanging over the Royal Opera’s revival of The Flying Dutchman was whether Covent Garden’s tricky computerised stage system would be up to the demands of Ian Judge’s infamously hi-tech production. Apart from the occasional metallic creak, the first night actually went without a hitch, but at a price.

Judge’s overwrought staging, a whirligig of swivelling platforms and staircases when unveiled in 1992, was originally geared to the fashionable, if unauthentic, one-act version of the score produced by Wagner’s widow Cosima in 1901. (Wagner repeatedly toyed with the idea of running the opera as a continuous whole, but never put it into practice.) A lack of technical rehearsal time forced the Opera House to revert to Wagner’s own final edition – the 1860 three-act version – which will doubtless displease some, but does spare us some of the more motion sickness-inducing movements of John Gunter’s set.

The production’s other flaws remain, however. Psychology is subordinate to spectacle: there’s a queasy tilt towards symbolism throughout that renders the opera’s depiction of the effect of the uncanny upon a bourgeois society unclear.

More worryingly, the performance itself is wretchedly uneven. The conductor is Simone Young, who drives the piece with a hard, unyielding ferocity, turning it into a Gothic horror story, although Wagner was after something more subtle. There is a lack of tenderness in her interpretation, and the playing is alarmingly coarse.

Bernd Weikl scrapes through the Dutchman’s music with a tattered wreck of a voice, his former sexual charisma now conspicuous by its absence. Solveig Kringelborn acts her socks off as Senta, turning Wagner’s heroine into a credible neurotic who belongs on Freud’s couch – but vocally some of it is excruciatingly squally and she should not really be singing the role in the first place.

Kim Begley’s Erik is finely lyrical, if at times effortful. The choral singing is fabulous and there’s a definitive Daland from the wonderful Kurt Moll, but he can’t redeem an evening that ranks as one of the messiest to be heard at Covent Garden for some time.

Tim Ashley (27. 3. 2000)

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A production by Ian Judge