Joined: 28 Oct 2004
|Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2006 1:16 pm Post subject: Dutchman at the WMC
|We were seated in the third row of the upper circle at the Wales Millennium Centre for the Dress Rehearsal of the Flying Dutchman. The place was just about full. The TV cameras were there, and there was a real feeling of excitement in the air.
The overture started and it was evident that the orchestra was on good form. Behind them the stage was hidden behind a grey curtain. What would we find behind it?
When the stage was finally revealed we saw a huge, 15 foot high, steel gantry, running around a square with its point to the front. “Ah,” I thought, “We’re on the bridge of an oil tanker.” Suspended from the gantry were enormous screens. Then I noticed what was being projected onto the screens. It looked like a huge gyroscope. I don’t think they use them in oil tankers, do they? Over the course of the performance many images were used. The ones relating to the ‘ship’ were confusing. The gyroscope, some portholes and general interior views of a metallic structure, then what looked like a space station, or was it one of those fancy submarine thingies? Gideon Saks walked on to the gantry as Daland, dressed in a long, double breasted, dark grey coat. We couldn’t see him properly until he reached the front of the stage. I think that anyone at the back of the upper circle would have missed his head completely. The structure was just much too high to allow everyone in the theatre to see what was going on!
The crewmen were wearing the oddest padded pale grey boiler suits and cloth helmets with built in ear protectors. Were they were in Cosmonaut suits? We found out later that they were, but I spent a lot of the performance feeling quite confused about where we were supposed to be. I’d come to the theatre expecting the coast of Norway. It would have been kinder to me it I’d been given a more definite hint of the location, a la rolling script at the start of a Star Wars film, or the “Space, the final frontier” bit in Star Trek…….. Anyway, back to the plot….The helmsman, in a pale boiler suit and cap, took up his post down on the stage. He sang his love song with an incredible sweetness then fell asleep.
Now, the screens were moveable, and one of those behind was ‘L’ shaped, with a door with a light above it in the short arm of the ‘L’. I liked the way the screens were used to make different spaces and to suggest the movement of the ‘ships’. When the Dutchman’s ship began its approach the screens went red, and the light moved behind the closed front screens. A huge eye was projected onto the screens, and the shape of a man was visible behind. As the Dutchman’s first piece began the screens opened, little by little to reveal Bryn. First of all, he looked great. I loved the costume. A long, flared, dark single breasted coat, over dark trousers and a sailor’s striped t-shirt. His hair was long and slicked back into a pony tail. He had a faint beard. The singing was superb. You could feel the Dutchman’s distress. I was a little distracted by the screens. At first because they showed huge images of the wrong Dutchman, and then because although the idea of showing the emotion on the face in an enormous close up is OK, when it’s used for longer than a few seconds it loses it’s impact and even a 15 foot high head of Bryn starts to look silly. It takes a very special actor to pull really convincing faces for any length of time. This effect was used several times throughout the show at times of high emotion. I felt that the idea was good, particularly when just the eyes were shown, but the execution too often failed. Somehow Bryn managed to rise above it all and filled the stage with a wonderfully brooding and tragic presence.
The meeting between the Dutchman and Daland took place within the open cube created by the screens at a basic and functional table and chairs. Again the images projected were distracting and confusing. We appeared to be being shown around a warehouse. Some parts appeared domestic, with plants and furniture, others to show a stateroom with a long dining table and chairs. There was footage of technical equipment, and what appeared to be a changing room, with brocade curtains and a little guilt chair. I have no idea what any of that was about! Saks was a tremendously avaricious and grasping father, while Bryn’s Dutchman paced restlessly as though he had been wandering for so long he couldn’t remember how to be still. The deal was done, the Dutchman had bought Daland’s daughter. The South wind rose and Daland headed for home.
The women were, from the images on the screens, in a factory. Dressed in headscarves, overalls and rubber gloves they seemed to be tangling and untangling long fibre optic cables suspended from a hub and the centre of the stage. Senta was busy drawing huge cartoon eyes every where, including at a few points, on the faces of other people. The reason behind this became more apparent when it seemed that the Dutchman’s portrait had been reduced to painted eyes projected on to the screens. Annalens Persson gave a melodious rendition of the ballad of the Flying Dutchman. I could understand Senta’s passion for this romantic figure she could never have. Eric, poor dab, never has a hope. He looks very drab and uninspiring. No wonder she’s distracted by those big blue eyes.
When Daland arrived home he greeted his daughter at stage level, but the Dutchman is pacing around in the gantry. Neither he nor Senta seemed able to settle. It’s not that they are circling around each other, rather wandering the stage, as the screens open up new corridors, looking for answers and peace. It is only in the last seconds of the scene that they touch, only to spring apart again at Daland’s entry. Although I had looked forward to some romantic grappling, I think this approach worked well, giving a tremendous erotic tension to the piece. Bryn’s Dutchman is a caged beast who has walked the paths of his confinement for so long that he is barely even looking for his escape. When he spies his twin soul his desperation is tempered by such an unwillingness to believe in her and be let down again that the pain of his predicament just seems even harder to bear.
The ‘party’ scene down on the harbour is a different kettle of fish. It began in good heart with the girls, now dressed in white boots, blonde wigs and short dresses (“Barabarella” the musical?) waving Tupperware boxes at the crewmen below. Some of them descended to join the men. As the music moved on and became darker most of the girls moved away and we were left with just half a dozen on the stage. The scene then changed to one of gang rape, as the words of the Dutchman’s crew take over. As calm returned to the men the girls crawl from the stage, with their knickers around their ankles.
When Eric and Senta had their final meeting there was a feeling of fear and compassion. Although Senta obviously doesn’t have the passion for Eric that she has for the Dutchman it was apparent that she really cares for him. She holds him in her arms and comforts him with a tenderness that was missing in her turbulent encounter with her soul mate. It’s no wonder that the Dutchman misinterprets her actions and releases her from her promise. For me it is this act, and the way that Bryn sings the piece, that makes me believe that by this stage there is real love in the Dutchman’s heart for this mortal girl. He is willing to throw away his chance of release to save her from the consequences of making a false promise before God.
He climbed into the gantry and called on his crew to set sail. Now, for me, in my position in the theatre, the next moments were bitterly disappointing. The action took place at the back of the gantry, and all I could see was the actor’s feet. Senta climbed to join the Dutchman, and I think he enfolded her in his coat, but as I couldn’t see above ankle height, I don’t really know. The big screens showed an image of something in the water, and it was all over.
I must admit that this final ‘missing’ scene did colour my view of he whole show for a few hours. “Anticlimax” doesn’t really cover it. But I’ve slept on it and I’ve tried to distil a more balanced view of the whole thing. The singing was superb. Bryn was marvellous, as always, but I think this role suits him particularly well. Some of the ideas in the staging were inspired; others fell flat and at worst distracted from the fine performances that were being given. The worst of it was that the set had not been designed for the theatre and either no-one has given any thought to adapting it, or they are working on the idea that the people in the cheap seats should be glad of what they’re given. Either way, it isn’t good enough!
I’m looking forward to seeing it all again from the stalls. I’m working on the principal that I should be able to see everything from there and that now that I’ve worked out what I think is going on I should be able to ignore the distractions. I’ll let you know how I get on…….
Actually I enjoyed the actual performance much more than I expected. I had a great view of the stage and was able to ignore most of the bits that I had found distracting the first time around. The singing was again wonderful. I loved Bryn’s roaming Dutchman. I know not everyone agrees, but I thought the wandering around the stage worked very well and the lack of contact between the Dutchman and Senta made the passion in the scene in which he releases her from her vows almost electric. That being said, I’m still not much wiser about the ending. Yes, Bryn enfolded Senta in his coat, then we were treated to a projected image of bubbles in the water followed by the doors of a space ship opening onto a desert landscape. Hummm? Didn’t do anything for me and took the gloss off the rest of the piece. This is a great pity as the part was one that could have been written with Bryn in mind. Would I go to see it again? Yes, just try and stop me! I’m with Senta in the Dutchman fan club. Now, how about someone casting Bryn in a nice, traditional production especially for those of us who are new to this opera business and haven’t had a chance to get bored with it yet?