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The Flying Dutchman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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Der fliegende Holländer has been subject to some pretty ropey stagings in London in recent years and it took a concert performance by Zurich Opera to breathe a fresh wind into the salty tale.  Conductor Alain Altinoglu’s reading gave the work a dramatic and musical weight that belied the work’s early place in Wagner’s oeuvre.  I’ve never heard the score’s pre-echoes of The Ring so clearly before.  Altinoglu took sections at a snail’s pace but the Philharmonia Zurich rose to thrilling heights of excitement, bolstered by the performances of a crack line-up of principal singers.

London has been treated to Bryn Terfel’s Dutchman a number of times and the portrayal is now at an unprecedented level.  Following his recent Wotan at Covent Garden, he’s simply the best of today’s Wagnerian singers, with a rare power, subtlety and huge dynamic range.  Matti Salminen was a mature Daland but, unlike some of our own senior singers, his voice is still in remarkably good shape. He has a presence that equals Terfel’s and the scenes with the two of them were an exquisite meeting of giants.  Anja Kampe impressed as Senta in Tim Albery’s Royal Opera production and the performance has gained in stature, although there’s now some discomfort at the top.  She succeeds in making perfect sense of a character that can easily lack believability, without any resort to fanciful tricks. If all three seemed at full stretch by the conclusion of the work, it was a sign of total commitment and focus (and who wants to see singers holding back when they have so much to give?).

It’s a shame that productions these days (this is based on Zurich Opera’s new staging by Andreas Homoki) seem to avoid the redemption ending, as the original score renders the end of both the overture and the complete work earthbound.  It smacks of denial of the opera’s main theme and, hopefully, it’s a fashion that will pass.  The inclusion of an interval after Act One, breaking the dramatic impetus, was also unwelcome.

Zurich’s male chorus was not large but made a mighty sound, although the second chorus of phantom sailors denied us any illusion, as they shuffled onstage and remained solidly present for the remainder of the performance. 

Martin Homrich was a replacement as Erik and his tenor was a shade light for the role, but Fabio Trümpy‘s sweet-voiced Steurmann was more successful.

2012 hasn’t been a vintage year for stagings, with concert versions representing some of the year’s most exciting opera performances.  A passionately refined performance by the orchestra and thrilling singing continued the trend, making this a fine end to the year.

- Simon Thomas


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