REVIEW: The Flying Dutchman – Scottish Opera, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

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This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writer and Librettist: Richard Wagner

Conductor: Francesco Corti

Director: Harry Fehr

Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★★½

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Richard Wagner was a not a very pleasant man, in fact a rather unpleasant man indeed, a man with an ideology almost whole-heartedly abhorrent to a modern audience, an ideology that encompassed: anti-Semitism, racism and rampant misogyny. The question that needs to be asked then is: Does the quality of his work transcend what we might feel about the man himself?

The answer here is a resounding yes. Scottish Opera make an triumphant return to form with the company’s first Wagner opera since 2003 and it’s first revival of The Flying Dutchman for 25 years.

Based upon the legend of the Captain of the aforementioned ghostly ship, who, in return for safe passage through a storm, is cursed to sail the seas until eternity unless he can find a women who will love him with utter fidelity until she dies.

Director Harry Fehr and designers Tom Scutt and James Farncombe have acknowledged the difficulties that a 21st century audience may have engaging with a storyline Wagner originally wrote reflecting his belief that women should wholly subjugate themselves to their menfolk and have tried to navigate away from the unavoidable misogyny at the core of Wagner’s tale.

This early work has been re-set by the creative team in the 1970s, in a beleaguered port in the north east of Scotland and gets right to the heart of the tale of two lonely people so desperate they will do anything for the chance of love. This decision, cleverly removing any barriers the audience may have engaging with Wagner’s originally mystical and misogynistic piece, gives it an instant familiarity and greater reality that grabs the audience’s attention from the start.

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Much of the enjoyment of the piece though lies in the central performances of Senta, daughter of a ship’s captain, lonely, unloved and trapped in the claustrophobic confines of the fishing port where she lives, and the mysterious Dutchman, forlornly roaming the seas searching for love. As Senta, Rachel Nicholls is on stunning form, from the first to the last note she thrills: carrying the audience along on her journey through loneliness and obsession to optimism and happiness to inevitable tragedy with a finely tuned performance and a sublime voice that grabs and holds the attention throughout. Less successful is the casting of Wagnerian specialist Peteris Eglitis as the Dutchman. With a voice which was underpowered and often overwhelmed by the majestic sounding orchestra, Eglitis failed to make up for these shortcomings by lacking in charisma as well.

In support tenor Nicky Spence as the young helmsman particularly shone, the mischievous glint in his eye and spring in his step as well as his soaring voice of clarity and power was especially enthralling. The male chorus too cannot go without mention for providing many of the “hairs on the back of the neck moments” when they sang as one.

Arguably one of Wagner’s most accessible works The Flying Dutchman is a powerful, engaging and emotional tale made all the more so by this tremendously talented creative team and cast.

Runs until: 19th April

Photo: James Glossop

*INTERVIEW WITH STAR OF THE FLYING DUTCHMAN NICKY SPENCE HERE

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