With ENO’s Riders to the Sea premiering the same night, Wagner’s salty pot-boiler brought another dose of death at sea, in a concert performance by new company London Lyric Opera.
Wagnerian veteran Lionel Friend conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a boisterous account of this sparkling early score.
Things started not altogether promisingly. The overture was the slowest I’ve ever heard (there’s no doubt that Friend is a follower of Reginald Goodall) and it also took some time to get past the sight of sea-bitten sailors in penguin suits. More casual attire might have helped set the scene. Then, James Hancock’s light baritone, in the title role, was in constant danger of being swept away by Wagner’s stormy seas this was a Dutchman who never quite flew.
But salvation lay in the shape of Gweneth-Ann Jeffers’ Senta. Her first essay into the role, it had the seeds of a very interesting interpretation, as well as a blooming, powerful sound. Her dejected, downtrodden demeanour made a lot of sense of the character’s obsession with the mysterious stranger.
We know in the first act that her father (a too-youthful Daland by Austrian bass Karl Huml) is prepared to barter her for a pot of gold and that she is holed up in a claustrophobic late 19th Century household. What Jeffers brought to the part, with a totally-focused and dramatically-weighty presence, was a sense that escape by phantom was preferable to life with Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts’ twitchy and potentially psychotic Erik shades of his marvellous Grimes and a valid approach too.
This wasn’t just some melodramatic yearning for freedom but a real psychological insight into an oppressed individual. If Jeffers gets a chance to develop her characterisation in a full staging, we can look forward to a well-rounded portrayal with considerable vocal heft. Lloyd-Roberts’ strongly-sung Erik made a major contribution too and when these two singers were on stage there was a real sense of lift.
The orchestral performance grew consistently in strength throughout the evening and the brief third act (the opera was played with two intervals) saw a rousing sailors’ chorus, with strong work from the Philharmonia Chorus, and their amplified ghostly counterparts floating eerily through.
As a first venture for this new group, spear-headed by the enterprising Hancock, this held out much promise for the forthcoming performance of Fidelio at Cadogan Hall. Elizabeth Connell will sing Leonore and Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts returns as Florestan. Madeleine Lovell, who assisted Lionel Friend on Der fliegende Hollnder, will conduct.
London Lyric Opera’s concert performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio will take place at Cadogan Hall on 17 February. Tickets are now available on 020 7730 4500 or www.cadoganhall.com