This concert performance of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer was sold out months in advance, the principal draw being Bryn Terfel’s performance of the title role. The opportunity to catch a performance by the visiting Zurich Opera was no doubt an additional attraction.
Zurich Opera’s new production marks the third time Terfel has portrayed the Dutchman, the two previous occasions having been at Covent Garden and the Bavarian State opera, both in 2009. Terfel’s return to the role more than lived up to expectations. His Act I monologue, “Die Frist ist um,” opened quietly but with great depth of feeling, while the climax of his Act II duet with Senta conveyed a remarkable degree of musical intensity. Dramatically, too, this was a nuanced and deeply convincing portrayal.
Anja Kampe, who performed the role opposite Terfel at Covent Garden, sang Senta. Her interpretation was at its most impressive during the role’s climactic moments, her voice riding passionately if not always beautifully over the full orchestra. However, a certain hardness of tone detracted from her singing in quieter passages, and I missed the sense of inwardness that Senta’s ballad should convey.
The legendary Finnish bass Matti Salminen, a member of the Zurich Opera company, brought depth and conviction to the role of Daland. His voice has lost something of its original honeyed resonance, but retains its distinctive tone and power. Marco Jentsch was due to have played Erik but was forced to withdraw due to illness. Martin Homrich, his replacement, was slightly hampered by a pinched tone but brought considerable dignity and sympathy to the role. Liliana Nikiteanu and Fabio Trümpy provided attractive performances of Mary and The Steersman respectively.
The young French conductor Alain Altinoglu directed a compelling and refined account of the score. If the elemental side of Wagner’s writing was slightly underplayed, there was a compensating lyricism and rhythmic buoyancy, and a sense of mystery. The playing of the Philharmonia Zurich was excellent, the horns especially fine. The Zurich Opera Chorus was small but potent. An additional contingent of singers came on stage in Act III to sing the Dutchman’s crew.
With very limited interaction between the principals (a passionate kiss between the Dutchman and Senta at the height of the love duet excepted), the main problem with this concert performance was a lack of dramatic credibility. Nevertheless, the final part of the opera, with Terfel contributing ringing, passionate intensity, was a thrilling experience, and brought a standing ovation from the audience.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk