Opera review: Scottish Opera’s The Flying Dutchman, Glasgow Theatre Royal

You’d have to be fairly delusional to fall for the charms of the mysterious Dutchman. That seems to be the conclusion of young director Harry Fehr’s radical 1970s reimagining of Wagner’s early opera for Scottish Opera.

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Fehr returns to the composer’s original Scottish setting for the work (never realised in Wagner’s lifetime), and he seems intent on deliberately playing down any mythical or symbolic meaning that Wagner intended. Instead, the Dutchman, cursed to sail the seven seas for eternity, and Senta, the woman so obsessed by his story that she abandons herself to him, are real people, thrown together by need and circumstance.

Hence the need to portray Senta’s mental state as rather fragile – brilliantly conveyed in Rachel Nicholls’s spellbinding performance, touchingly vulnerable yet shot through with intensity. That intensity was matched by the dark charisma of Peteris Eglitis as the Dutchman himself – although his surprisingly light bass baritone was sometimes swamped by the energetic orchestra under conductor Francesco Corti. Scott Wilde gave a rich, resonant account of Donald (usually Daland), Senta’s father, and Nicky Spence was gleeful as the helmsman.

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Does Fehr’s realist rethink really work? Ultimately, probably not – Wagner’s symbolism is so embedded in the opera that it’s difficult to ignore. But there were some wonderfully bathetic moments nonetheless – the lovers’ heartfelt declarations of love over a church-hall finger buffet were particularly memorable. It’s Fehr’s expert evocation of a strange, haunted other world, brilliantly conjured in Tom Scutt’s grimy staging and Ian Williams Galloway’s vivid video projections, that in memorable.