By Jen Mcgregor
There is one very important reason why you must see Scottish Opera’s current production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, and her name is Rachel Nicholls. Her voice is glorious, a rich dramatic sound with incredible sweetness. The opera is well sung throughout, but Nicholls’ Senta is a clear stand-out and her singing alone is worth the price of a ticket.
The rest of the production is a combination of beauty and confusion. It’s a stunning score, beautifully rendered by Scottish Opera’s orchestra on top form and featuring some wonderful singing from Peteris Eglitis as the Dutchman and Nicky Spence in a brief turn as the Steersman. There are some stunning visual elements thanks to Ian William Galloway’s mesmerising video designs, particularly during the spine-tingling overture when a vast stationery seascape slowly becomes a hypnotic display of crashing waves. The first appearance of the Dutchman’s ship is equally chilling and doom-laden.
The opera suffers from an overdose of realism in its staging. Wagner’s blood and thunder music and mythological subject matter do not lend themselves to the drab knitwear and community halls of a Scottish fishing town in the 1970s. Director Harry Fehr’s decision to have a cursed, undying sailor swearing undying love while arranging trays of egg and cress sandwiches on fold-out tables seems a very strange choice, diminishing the magical power of the plot and making its events feel histrionic rather than tragic.
Fortunately, while the production features many unfathomable choices it does not distract from the quality of the music, which remains as exquisite and moving as it should.
The Flying Dutchman runs at the Festival Theatre on Tuesday 16 April and Friday 19 April at 19.15 (running time 2 hours 45 minutes). Further details on the Scottish Opera’s website.