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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Procrastinated Reviews: Scottish Opera "The Flying Dutchman", Edinburgh Festival Theatre 13 April 2013

It is a little-known fact that when Richard Wagner first started work on the story for The Flying Dutchman he set it in Scotland, a country with a powerful hold on the Romantic imagination thanks to the poems of Ossian and the novel of Sir Walter Scott. Eventually the action was moved to Norway, but it is hardly surprising that some enterprising director would set a production in Scotland, even going to the extent of renaming the characters in line with Wagner's draft intentions. And it's even less surprising that the company mounting this production should be Scottish Opera.

The production's crirical reception was mixed. Nobody had a bad word to say for the singers or orchestra, who were all fantastic, but the staging received a mauling in some quarters, especially the works-canteen-cum-garment-factory which is where most of the non-dockside action takes place. I thought it worked pretty well, myself: it certainly helped to locate the scenes in Scotland. And I particularly liked the way Rachel Nicholls played Senta's character, as a withdrawn, socially awkward obsessive. I hadn't thought of Senta as suffering from Asperger's Syndrome, but it fits her actions so perfectly I can't believe nobody has tried it before. Peteris Eglitis as the Dutchman was a more conventional portrayal, but none the worse for that, oh dear no. And the almost casual way he and Donald (more usually called Daland) arrange his marriage to Senta reminded us that women were far from equal with men in 19th century industrial Scotland. Most women in Wagner operas are won as wives via some kind of contest, whether it be a singing contest (Tannhauser, Meistersinger) or passage through a magical barrier (Siegfried). But being disposed of as a prize is surely less demeaning than simply being sold for cash, as Senta is.

So - special praise not only for Senta and the Dutchman, but also for conductor Francesco Corti and director Harry Fehr. I loved it, and if they revive the production I'll happily see it again.

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