Is it too late now to be writing about the ENO Flying Dutchman? I expect the sensible answer is yes. But self-indulgence is not exactly an alien concept on this blog – and I have some lack-of-blogging guilt to assuage into the bargain – so perhaps I'll say a few words just the same.
As with the ENO Parsifal last year, this was my first proper encounter with this opera in any language, and I have to say, it is a fairly insane privilege to be able to get acquainted with a work by watching – and hearing – it take shape in the theatre, first in rehearsals and then during the season. With Parsifal this turned out to be formative: somewhere along the line, it became my favourite Wagner opera and in fact one of my favourites full stop, which, given its preponderance of 1. boy singers and 2. orchestral passages was a bit of a surprise to this soprano fanatic. I saw it something like 15 times last year, which should be enough for a while, and yet I keep suddenly craving it. The Zürich Opera production, which I've already seen through its premier season and one revival, goes back there again next year and I'm already excited.
But I digress. Dutchman is not Parsifal. Nor could one expect it to be, although I confess to wishing more than once that it was. It's all very rollicking and I learnt to love it on its merits but, well, I'm glad it was Wagner's first important work and not his last. Every now and then, there's a passage which foreshadows all the intoxicating glory to come – a tantalising little pre-echo – but there are also plenty of chunks which could pass for Rossini or Meyerbeer or rum-ti-tum Verdi. None of which I dislike, by the way, but it's hard not to judge Wagner by what you know he was ultimately capable of. Still, this all sounds like so much griping and I don't really mean for it to. It's a nice tightly packed little opera with some fabulous music, a few longueurs, and a weirdly unloveable yet still mostly compelling set of characters.
I eagerly await some director's Twilight-inspired take on this opera, because that's what Senta's obsession – especially as portrayed in this director's (Jonathan Kent's, that is) modern production – with the tousled supernatural heartthrob kept putting me in mind of. At least he didn't sparkle. But he did, alas, exist only in her imagination. She saw him; nobody else did. When her father introduced them, it would appear he was fixing her up with somebody far more earthbound and less gallant: a long haired fellow whose Regency attire (unlike the Dutchman's) was only fancy dress and who, in one of the production's more traumatic scenes, raped poor bewildered Senta, precipitating a meltdown of Carrie-like proportions.
The staging divided opinion, including my own. I didn't love every part of it, but was certainly far more convinced by the end of the season than I had been when I first saw a rehearsal. I can understand those who didn't like it – or didn't like all of it – but for me, it certainly had its moments. It also had a fearless central performance by Orla Boylan as Senta, who made me cry every single night – which, despite my emotional fangirl approach to the artform, is not nearly as frequent an occurence as you might think. James Creswell was all doom and dignity as the Dutchman, Robert Murray and Susanna Tudor-Thomas excellent as the Steersman and Mary, and my own tenor was more or less a revelation as Erik. To me, I mean. He's sung the role about a million times but I'd never heard him (or anyone else) do it. And oh my, that is some high and unforgiving vocal writing. Which he nailed. Of course. The audience and reviewers went kind of crazy for him – not necessarily standard practice for an Erik – and I was not about to argue with them.
Ed Gardner was brilliant in his first Wagner opera, the ENO Orchestra played sensationally, the chorus were fabulous and had far too much fun in the raucous pirate party. I'm sorry I always relegate them to the final paragraph and make them sound like an afterthought, because believe me, they're not. The ENO chorus is one of the best I've run into yet, both musically and as a troupe of actors, and that orchestra really is amazing. I heard them play Butterfly and Caligula too – both wildly different from Dutchman – and it's clear that nothing fazes them. I can't wait finally to hear them, again with Ed Gardner at the helm, play Peter Grimes at the Proms this August.
Who knows when I'll hear another Dutchman. Chances are, if and when I do, it will be with a different Erik; Stuart had already theoretically retired the role from his repertoire before the ENO came calling for his last minute assistance. And I have to be honest: I'm happy to wait for a while. I'm glad to have got to know Dutchman in such propitious circumstances – not to mention all the photo opportunities for a certain porcine companion of mine – but I think I've had my fill for the time being. The Year of Three Ring Cycles is fast approaching. Bring on the Valkyries.