Der fliegende Holländer

Henrik Nánási
Chorus and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
16 March 2024
Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandStephen Milling
SentaElisabet Strid
ErikToby Spence
MaryKseniia Nikolaieva
Der Steuermann DalandsMiles Mykkanen
Der HolländerBryn Terfel

Sir Bryn Terfel anchors The Royal Opera’s latest revival of Der fliegende Holländer

Rain lashed both the exterior and interior of the Royal Opera House as the latest revival of Tim Albery’s production of Der fliegende Holländer returned just in time for the leap day. Obvious signs of the sinister were confined to bad weather and a ghostly collection of sailors; it’s a production that focuses squarely upon very human emotions.

Albery’s staging remains as fresh and stimulating as when it debuted in 2009. Michael Levine’s sets are uncluttered; bare, but still impressive in scale. The lips twitch when the sewing desks descend, while an ominous shadow ponderously darkening the stage in Act 1 is sufficient to evoke the fearsome hull of the Dutchman’s ship. Certain anachronisms linger, particularly in the form of ‘park and bark’ delivery, but these are minor quibbles when presented with some compelling Personenregie.

The draw for this revival was Sir Bryn Terfel, for whom the role is now as comfortable as an old sailor’s cap. Terfel’s voice has been waning in sheer beauty for a couple of years now, but this was his finest performance in the title role I have seen. What the voice has lost – principally in its higher register – was more than compensated for by a vivid approach to phrasing and diction that made every word audible and meaningful. Terfel’s is a Dutchman who counts his curse in centuries, not decades. The weariness, the fatigue conveyed both in words and in gait permeated his performance in the first act – “Die Frist ist um” a particular highlight – only for him to lighten suddenly as he comes to believe that he might finally have found the love he had been craving. A compelling performance, but one possibly best seen than simply heard.

This revival marks Elisabet Strid’s debut at Covent Garden. Her Senta was theatrically convincing, particularly in Act 3, and she showed strength in the top reaches of her soprano, though the lower register fluctuated in power. Stephen Milling’s bluff Daland made an affable captain: a friend to his crew and a relaxed pater familias who thinks he has chanced upon his pot of gold when he meets the Dutchman. In his Act 1 duet with Terfel, Milling was on good form, showing a lyrical bass and reasonable diction. Difficulties arose in “Mögst du, mein Kind” where Milling was challenged, in what was perhaps a case of first night nerves.

Toby Spence was vocally pushed as Erik, struggling to maintain a balance between tonal beauty and power in what is a fairly unrewarding role. Dramatically, though, he was credible in his depiction of an abandoned lover, emotional to the point of obsessive, a more earthly counterpoint to Senta’s own fixation on a ghostly legend. Mention should also be made of Miles Mykkanen’s Steersman, an earnest albeit hapless youngster somewhat out of his depth. Mykkanen’s elegiac delivery of “Mit Gewitter und Sturm aus fernem Meer”, bright and innocent, was an ideal precursor to Terfel’s flinty bass-baritone minutes later.

The Royal Opera Chorus sang lustily and in the pit Henrik Nánási led a beautiful reading of the score, dramatic at the right moments but with particularly fine woodwinds. Nánási’s interpretation looked forward to Wagner’s later works while seeming to highlight the Italian influences, particularly Bellini. Let us hope that the Dutchman’s ship might dock again at Covent Garden… hopefully in less than seven years!

Dominic Lowe | 02 März 2024

The Guardian

Terfel still owns this role, and Elisabet Strid’s Senta soars

Tim Albery’s 2009 production of Wagner’s opera has heaved back into port at the Royal Opera, with the ghost ship of legend once again casting a long shadow over Michael Levine’s set: a huge industrial ship’s deck, curved almost as vertiginously as a skate park half-pipe, over which scurries and slides a crew of oilskinned sailors. And once again the phantom Dutchman himself gets a memorable performance from Bryn Terfel. Vocally it’s not the same performance that he was able to give 15 years ago – he has to push against the orchestra at both the top and bottom of his range now, and his tenderness towards Senta comes across in his look more than his voice – but every word is meaningfully projected, every line full of character. Terfel has owned this role, here and elsewhere, and he’s not about to give it up.

The Flying Dutchman is the work of a composer still in transition, from the established norms of 19th-century opera into the long-form mastery of his later works, and one might expect the odd dip in energy when its two-and-a-quarter hours are performed straight through without a break, as here. Yet even accounting for that, the revival feels slightly lukewarm. With Henrik Nánási conducting, the intensity of the orchestral playing comes and goes. Nánási can be strong on detail but is not consistently so – there are times when the orchestra provides the run-up to a big, bounding voice entry but the two don’t quite join up, and the effect falls flat. The women’s chorus, sung from behind ranks of sewing machines under eye-achingly bright striplights, itself sounds laborious, the rhythms overstressed.

The characters can feel small on this big stage, yet the supporting cast is strong. Stephen Milling’s bluff, healthy sea captain is a good foil for Terfel’s ghostly one. Miles Mykkanen makes a big impression as the clear-voiced but lazy Steersman who sleeps through the Dutchman’s arrival. The tenor Toby Spence makes a convincing character of uptight Erik but this hectoring role doesn’t seem ideal for his voice and he sounds tired by the time he finally gets to sing something lyrical. The male chorus, their ranks swelled with seemingly half the professional tenors and basses in London, sound fantastic.

Best of all, though, is Elisabet Strid, in her Royal Opera debut, as Senta, the self-sacrificing heroine who dreams of something beyond the factory but is doomed to achieve it only in death – and in this production, an anticlimactic death at that. A quietly compelling presence on stage, she sings the role in a soprano that’s golden yet grainy, all slubby silk rather than smooth satin, and the more expressive for it.

Erica Jeal | 5 March 2024

Financial Times

Bryn Terfel’s Flying Dutchman is a character of tragic dimensions

According to legend, the Flying Dutchman has been cursed to roam the seas and only puts into port every seventh year. His visits to the Royal Opera House have been more frequent — this is the fourth since the current production debuted in 2009 — but then the opera is Wagner’s shortest, a single act in this version, and probably his least financially onerous.

A mainstay has been Bryn Terfel, in the title role from the original cast and missing only one revival. The years have passed for him, as they have for the Dutchman, but he remains a vivid central focus for the drama. Although the way he pumps words with colour and emphasis has become exaggerated, Terfel gets more out of the role than anybody else. His Dutchman is no passive wanderer, but a man wracked by frustration, angst, longing and regret, a character of tragic dimensions.

It takes a singer of Terfel’s bountiful gifts to add life to Tim Albery’s utilitarian production. After so many centuries of wandering the seas, maybe it is not surprising that the Dutchman should finally have cast anchor in the 1970s at an empty harbour kitchen with two hard, upright chairs and a single lightbulb. The production style looks dated now, but Albery’s handling of the drama remains sure-footed.

Everything still works here, even if this is far from the production’s best cast. Elisabet Strid seems to be rising through the ranks of Wagnerian singers and sings Senta with good musicianship and gleaming soprano tone, except at the very top where the sound turns shrill. She also displays less strength in the middle voice than the biggest Wagner roles will demand.

In the years since Albery’s production was new, roles for women in opera have come under increasing scrutiny and Senta is surely one of the most objectionable. Here is a young woman bartered away by her father for the price of a few bracelets to a man she has never seen, and who wants her simply as a mechanism to release himself from his suffering. “I know well the sacred duty of a woman,” sings Senta grimly. At the end, Albery’s production saves her from throwing herself into the sea, but leaves her marooned on land, alone, cradling her model ship.

Strid’s less-gutsy-than-usual Senta makes Toby Spence’s very-light-voiced Erik sound less implausible than he might otherwise. Stephen Milling makes a bluff Daland, a touch less strong vocally than before. Miles Mykkanen is effective as the Steersman, Kseniia Nikolaieva warm-toned, but with few audible words, as Mary.

A large part of the evening’s success comes from the power of the much-bolstered chorus, with the men positioned to acoustic advantage under a low ceiling in the final scene, and the decisive conducting of Henrik Nánási, who drives the opera home with old-fashioned theatrical punch. There is probably enough life in this show for it to come around once more before the production’s final journey is up.

Richard Fairman | MARCH 1 2024

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
725 kbit/s VBR, 48.0 kHz, 739 MiB (flac)
Broadcast (BBC 3, transmission date: 30 March 2024)
A production by Tim Albery (2009)