Review: THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, Royal Opera House

An experience not to be missed.

By: Mar. 01, 2024
Review: THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, Royal Opera House
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Review: THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, Royal Opera House

Review: THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, Royal Opera House Tim Albery’s production of Wagner’s beloved The Flying Dutchman returns to the Royal Opera House for its fourth revival in a stunning performance that once again features Sir Bryn Terfel in the title role and the outstanding Elisabet Strid as Senta. Coupled with Henrik Nánási’s pitch-perfect conducting of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Michael Levine’s gloomy and almost-minimalist set design and David Finn’s atmospheric lighting, this is an experience not to be missed.

The set represents a wide space with a curved slope in largely grey colours that could be seen as the interior of a container ship, although its general function shifts throughout. In the first appearance of the female chorus, for instance, a set of sewing machines are lowered onto the stage, and towards the end a panel in the side of the ship opens in which the crews sing their parts. The lighting creates some magic here, casting haunting shadows when Senta first sees the Dutchman in person, or an eerie green light when we see the crew of the cursed ship. It’s all rather abstract, but highly effective: the result is that it feels like the opera is taking place in a nightmarish-mythological dreamscape from which the characters cannot escape. 

It’s not a perfect production, however, with the occasional decision not matching the libretto. Most things are forgivable, although in one particularly strange decision, Senta is supposed to leap dramatically to her death in the conclusion to reveal that she understands the implications of the curse and accepts the terms of her love; but here, she sort-of just sinks in on herself and dies of nothing. 

Terfel, who first played the Dutchman in 2009 for this production, still brings his characteristic prowess to the role. He sings with gravitas and power, although the added 15 years since the original performance add a touch of tiredness to his character that does fit: musically he’s just as pristine as ever; here, he adds more exhaustion to his general warmth. Strid is equally stunning, with a gorgeous-sounding naturality in her voice that leads perfectly through the score. She constantly maintains the dramatic presence necessary for Senta. Whether smooth and soft or bombastic, she never ceases to amaze.

Albery’s revival of his Flying Dutchman simply works: with a great cast and a smooth atmosphere created by a dreamlike ship-inspired set, it all builds towards a Gesamtkunstwerk that Wagner might have enjoyed himself. A great success, all around.

The Flying Dutchman is at the Royal Opera House until 16th March 2024. 

Photo Credits: Tristram Kenton