On paper this was going to be a Big Night. The first new production of the season, and the first conducted by the new musical director, Paul Daniel. Musically, it was a thrilling evening indeed. ENO had assembled an exceptionally strong cast, all singing their roles for the first time, and singing them with exceptional verbal clarity.
Daniel s conducting was brilliant and the orchestra responded with generally well-disciplined playing. Not since Mark Elder s incandescent ‘Tristan and Isolde have I heard the orchestra on such fine form, and Daniel managed to make the purple passages in this score sound vibrant. (It s a difficult achievement as the Senta/Dutchman duet and Senta/Erik duet drag desperately).
The assembled cast performed splendidly. Willard White was excellent in the title role. He sang with burnished tone and a legato of line more associated with Italian opera than Wagner. Every word was crystal clear; every phrase and musical utterance had been carefully thought through and duly executed. A marvellous performance.
As Senta, Rita Cullis was thrilling. She used her vocal assets to the full - utterly secure of tone, especially at the top of the register, and dispatched a difficult role with consummate ease. She is at the peak of her powers, and her Sieglinde with the Royal Opera is eagerly awaited.
The rest of the cast was also faultless. John Hudson was a splendid Steersman; Stephen Richardson a grave Daland; and David Rendall a secure and thrilling Erik, turning one of the most ungrateful tenor roles in the repertoire into something pivotal in the opera. The chorus singing was quite simply hair-raising.
If only one could find such good things to write about Stein Winge s production. The handling of the chorus was mannered and old fashioned, and there seemed to be little direction of the singers. The vast false stage of rubber bands was deployed quite effectively, but Senta and Erik popping up and down between the great swathes of elastic was risible. The appearance of the Dutchman s ghostly crew could be seen coming a mile off.
Huge acclaim for the excellent singers, some determined booing for the production team.