Daland's happy to sell his daughter to a mysterious, possibly unsavoury, stranger. The Dutchman wants a woman who'll release him from his curse. Erik wants a nice companion. But what does Senta want, and why? Director Jonathan Kent shows us Senta as a young girl, sitting up in bed, listening to the storm around her. She's grown up by the ocean, raised on seamen's yarns. Daland's always at sea, and Senta has neither mother nor siblings. Suddenly, the Steersman's song takes on grim meaning. What a delicate song this is compared with the other music in this opera. Yet Wagner gives it unusual prominence. "In gale and storm, from far-off seas, my maiden, I am near!" With her fervid imagination, Senta's conditioned from childhood to dream of strangers. Kent connects the sleeping Steersman (Robert Murray) with Senta, who ought to be asleep, but isn't. Already we see that Senta won't grow up complacent like the other girls in the village, for she roams the oceans in her mind. Not so different from the Dutchman himself. When Kent places the Dutchman sitting on little Senta's bed, the effect is disturbing. Strangers shouldn't intrude in little girls' bedrooms. Nice girls don't long for strange old men. (He's hundreds of years older!). But that's exactly why The Flying Dutchman is demonic. This Dutchman, James Creswell, is more Darcy than Heathcliff, but there are limits to how much any audience can take. When the Dutchman's ship bursts through onto the stage and the haunted sailors appear, the little girl (Aoife Checkland) weaves her way among them, dancing.
read more here), and his Glyndebourne Purcell The Fairy Queen (more here). Thus the set at the Coliseum (designed by Paul Brown) instantly transforms from factory to party after the brief interval where The Dutchman and Senta face each other. Or don't in this case, as Senta's too caught up in her fantasy to look too closely - another subtle insight. The party scene is both gaudy and brutal, for happiness in this harsh climate is hurriedly snatched. Hence rushed gropings, desperate attempts at "romance" without love. Again, Kent touches on the tacky tourism image. The sailors bring back souvenirs from afar, and wear parrot costumes and pirate shirts, but it's all on the surface. Notice the plastic palm tree. It looks fun but upside down it resembles a phallus. Just as Daland sells his daughter to strange men, relationships in this village are unromantic transactions. Hence everyone mocks Senta, her bridal veil more a badge of shame than triumph. Who does she think she is, daring to be different and better than "we" are?
No mention of whether this ENO Flying Dutchman is a co-production with any other house, but it would transport well to a venue larger than the Coliseum, so there's potential for generating income elsewhere in Europe, where this production would probably be appreciated, because it's very good. With a top rank European cast, and sung in German, this would be world class. (Skelton's world class). English is the ENO's Archilles Heel. (more on this soon). Dare I say it, but this production would suit the Royal Opera House extremely well. Hopefully the dull ROH Tim Albery Der fliegende Holländer will be jettisoned now that Kasper Holten rules the artistic roost.
Book here This one's worth going to, visually and musically.
photos copyright Robert Workman, courtesy ENO.