Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A touch of sea-sickness (ON/Dutchman)

Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer (Richard Farnes, cond. Orchestra Opera North)
Image: Opera North

Opera North’s Ring Cycle produced incrementally 2011-14, has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. This year, before the Ring is performed in its entirety, the Dutchman is being offered up to keep our appetites whetted. Whilst the performance is very good indeed, on opening night it took several key voices a while to settle, and at times the orchestra seemed a little uneven. 
We already know that Opera North at present can produce first-order Wagner. And the semi-staging has improved steadily. Mumford’s visuals and stagings have hit a real sweet spot- I do hope he reworks the first two of the Ring at least for next year. Indeed the screen was sail-shaped for the Dutchman, and the costumes have become direct rather than themed evening wear this has become highly-effective. It avoids the risk of irritations and bankrupting requirements of drowning castles in the Rhine, that sort of thing. That said the Dutchman can be convincingly staged and I wonder if the orchestra wouldn’t fit in the pit anyway. The programme showed photographs of the Covent Garden one from earlier in the year (review of production here), which whilst very much full-scale, was relatively plain and uncluttered, and the better for it.
Opera North's cast is familiar to those trekking up to Leeds each summer. Mats Almsgren produced the volume power effortlessly to open the drama- but the first portion seemed dominated by his excessive vibrato – or was his voice just hitting the top of his mouth. Actually, I think this was a case of a fine voice taking a while to settle. Hayfever was troubling several members of the audience in that horrible back-of-the-throat kind of way.
Alwyn Mellor – so powerful as Brünnhilde, was Senta which she sang in Milwaukee in October  (link) sadly took some time to get warmed up: only in the last 45 minutes did she show the power and clarity and emotion we know is so firmly within her Wagnerian grasp; in the earlier portion of the opera, quiet notes in particular seemed to be a particular problem.
The two stars of the show were Perencz’s Dutchman (kicked Terfel at Covent Garden into the long grass – but he did then call in sick afterwards, so perhaps this is unfair): in voice, characterization and power, absolutely superb, and the ON Chorus - both male and female was on good form.
I would find it hard to pick out anything particular in Orchestra, but they couldn’t be said to have been playing within an inch of their lives as they did with the Ring. At some points- such as the first scene- I wondered if there were some of out of tune reeds – a raspy sound could be heard. The leash was longer that it had been for the Ring: at moments some elements of the orchestra were overpowering and in competition with each other. Where Farnes’ interpretation of the Ring is fresh, interesting and important, I am afraid I don’t feel this is an especially gripping reading of the Dutchman.
Perhaps the real problem lies at Wagner’s feet. This is the earliest Wagner found in the mainstream repertoire. There are flashes of the genius to come, but this itself isn’t out the same box as the Ring (the Barenboim Wagner set notwithstanding).

Overall, this felt a little under-rehearsed. I suspect further down the run the voices will have settled, the orchestra will have worked through it problems, and Farnes will have regained the power he has demonstrated on previous occasions.

Cast & creative team
The Dutchman: Béla Perencz
Senta: Alwyn Mellor
Daland: Mats Almgren
Erik: Mati Turi
Mary: Ceri Williams
Steersman: Mark Le Brocq
Conductor: Richard Farnes
Semi-staging: Peter Mumford
Costume Designer: Fotini Dimou

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