Magazine article The Spectator

Opera Heavy Weather

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera Heavy Weather

Article excerpt

Der fliegende Hollander

Royal Opera House, in rep until 4 November

The Queen of Spades

Opera North, on tour until 24 November

Compelling, succinct, elemental, The Flying Dutchman, Wagner's first indisputable masterwork, wouldn't seem to present any great problems for an opera house, unless his directions about heaving ships are taken too literally - very unlikely - so why does one never see it well produced? The Royal Opera has made especially heavy weather of it, but not in the right sense, for the last quarter-century. Tim Albery's 2009 production has egregious faults, and few merits: above all, it fails to establish any potent atmosphere, and the singers are left largely to their own devices, with unhelpful scenery to stagger around on.

The present revival is nonetheless very worthwhile, thanks to the powerful rendering of the two leading roles. As the Dutchman, Egils Silins, a Latvian who sang a superb Wotan in Manchester three months ago, delivers a great performance. Ideally one would like a slightly larger voice, but his is beautiful, steady, legato rather than declamatory, and he lives the words and the drama with urgency. Most of those things are true of Anja Kampe as Senta, too, though occasionally on the first night she erred on the side of overenthusiasm, but that she managed to create so vivid a character while nursing a toy galleon, substitute for the Dutchman's portrait, and wearing a little late-1940s dress is a tribute to her artistic integrity.

None of the other singers is in this league.

Stephen Milling lacks the strong bass needed for Daland, and fails to realise the Rocco-like complexities of the character. Endrik Wottrich aims for a more robust Erik than normal, all to the good, but his voice ran out on him by the time he got to his aria.

The strangest feature of the evening was the conducting of Jeffrey Tate, whose long absence from the UK has been a scandal.

He began very much as he didn't mean to go on: tremendous surging strings, desperate brass, the Overture's opening sounded as if it was going to be classic. But no sooner did he get to Senta's theme than the brakes were applied, and never released. Since I happened to be in the right mood, the trancelike conducting of most of the work, until the battle of the choruses, was something I found moving, and it gave the principals a chance to dig into their roles. But I can see why people might have wondered what had happened to the voltage. The clarity of the orchestral texture throughout couldn't be disputed, so that one noticed Weber's influence much more than usual. …

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