Glyn Maxwell and Laura Bowler’s reworking of the mythic tale of the seaman condemned to sail the seas unless he finds his true love puts a topical spin on Wagner’s 1843 opera, “Der fliegende Holländer”. In this version, England’s borders are closed to strangers, the vigilante Watch group scan the sea from the cliffs on the look-out for anyone trying to “invade”, harsh measures are being implemented to deter those trying to cross the sea. One of the Watch, Starlight, begins to empathise with those seeking refuge and tries to persuade others to have more compassion. Mari, leader of the Watch and the antithesis of Starlight, sees her sympathy as treason. There’s also a thread of unrequited love coming into play between Mari and Starlight. Meanwhile, the Mariner, injured and alone on his raft, believes he is in hell. When found by Captain Dee, who has been laying migrant-deterring cables around the island, the Mariner insists he is alone, accompanied by no other souls. He persuades Dee, on payment of a large sum of money, to smuggle him ashore, where he meets Starlight.
The venue is magnificent, the cavernous and beautiful Grand Junction at St Mary Magdalene Church a suitably awe-inspiring backdrop. The downside is that too often, especially in the first act, where crucially the story is being laid out, and despite the singers’ impeccable diction and projection, Glyn Maxwell’s words are lost to the vast vaulted roof. Fortunately, OperaUpClose provide a synopsis sheet to guide the audience as to what’s happening on stage.
The four singers, Philippa Boyle, Timothy Dawkins, Carolyn Holt, and Pauls Putnin are excellent, handling the soaring score with ease and the storyline with evocative and nuanced acting. Putnin as the Mariner stands out, though a touch more light and shade in his huge baritone would be welcome. Philippa Boyle is a heartfelt Starlight, with a beautiful soprano. In an imaginative and almost show-stealing move, Bowler has the eight-piece Manchester Camerata under the musical direction of Timothy Burke, double as chorus. They act up a storm in a variety of roles, with associated costume changes, sometimes switching from singing to playing in the middle of a phrase – and look as though they are having a ball. It’s a joy to watch.
With little space for a seascape, Ana Inés Jabares-Pita has opted for an impressionistic version of the cliffs and the sea, the wafting backdrops remarkably effective in adding a level of storm-tossed dread.
So, the Mariner is presented as a people smuggler, the Watch are looking out for anyone trying to enter the country in small boats, and England is increasingly walling itself off from its neighbours. Thus, Lucy Bradley has created an intense dystopian vision that is not far off from where we find ourselves now. There is also hope in that the vision is one of redemption through love, even though that love might eventually be doomed.
After a sold-out run at The Grand Junction, The Flying Dutchman will tour to Hull and Liverpool. Tickets are on sale at: https://www.operaupclose.com/the-flying-dutchman
Reviewer: Carole Gordon
Reviewed: 13th July 2023
North West End UK Rating: