WAGNER Die Fliegende Holländer (Heras-Casado)
In a short booklet essay, the director of this Fliegende Holländer, Àlex Ollé, tells us that he and his creative team constantly asked themselves the same question: ‘Could a story like this happen today?’ In trying to answer it, he goes on, they came across the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong, where old ships are taken or dumped, to be dismantled or to rot.
This forms the basis for his staging and explains some of the production’s more unexpected touches. The Spinning Chorus features a group of women on a dirty beach in headdresses sorting through junk. Erik is a mercenary soldier; we’re in a place of poverty and bartering, where one might actually imagine a sea captain giving away his daughter for the right price.
And as you’d expect from a Fura dels Baus show, there’s an impressive scenic grandeur on display. Video projections conjure up the storm-tossed sea in the Overture (although the camera direction spends most of it concentrating on the pit) as well the ghostly crew that clambers up the prow of the vast vessel that appears at the start of Act 1 – gradually taken apart as the evening progresses. The sandy stage floor, variously lit, suggests the bottom of the ocean as much as a beach, and the Dutchman’s arrival is marked by the descent of an enormous anchor from the flies.
Indeed, the fact that he seems often to be singing underground makes one think as much of Alberich as Wagner’s ghostly aquatic wanderer. This might also have something to do with Samuel Youn’s singing of the role: always at a high pressure, and with a characterisation that, rather than offering tragic nobility, tends to range between snarling anger and borderline insanity. One notices more than ever, then, the shifts in the music’s idiom between fateful Weltschmerz and the jollier exchanges with Daland, here sung by the ever-reliable Kwangchul Youn.
There’s nevertheless an undeniable intensity in Samuel Youn’s exchanges with Ingela Brimberg’s Senta, who fills out her phrases impressively. Nikolai Schukoff is excellent as Erik, Benjamin Bruns is an eloquent Steersman and Kai Rüütel a pleasingly rich-voiced Mary. Pablo Heras-Casado conducts a swift, efficient account of the score, played well enough by the Madrid orchestra, but doesn’t really plumb the depths. Nor, ultimately, does the production. On its own terms, though, it’s an impressive and engaging show.