Scottish Opera to revive The Flying Dutchman

Composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883). Picture: Getty
Composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813 - 1883). Picture: Getty
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IT SHOULD be renamed The Flying Scotsman. A new production of Richard Wagner’s famous opera The Flying Dutchman has been based on an early draft by the composer that sets the story in Scotland.

Although the version that is normally performed today places the love story between a sailor and a young woman on the Norwegian coastline, Wagner’s first draft set the drama on the rugged Scottish coast.

Port Henry Harbour in Peterhead. Picture: Jane Barlow

Port Henry Harbour in Peterhead. Picture: Jane Barlow

It is now set to be revived 
by Scottish Opera in a new production which takes the 
action to 1970s Peterhead.

It uses Wagner’s original Scottish libretto and even 
features a ceilidh, while one character, Daland, is renamed Donald.

“The original libretto set the story in Scotland and it remained that way until about a month before it premiered in Dresden in 1843,” said director Harry Fehr, who discovered the original draft while ­researching the opera.

“We wanted to take it back to that Scottish setting, using the original libretto, which while very similar to the revised version has a few references to ‘Scots’ in it. But we also wanted to make it more modern. We wanted to make the story more immediate to audiences and give them something that they could ­connect with.”

The opera tells the story of Senta, a young girl unversed in the ways of life and love, who daydreams obsessively over a picture of the legendary Flying Dutchman, a tormented soul cursed to roam the seas with his ghostly crew until he finds a woman who will love him until death.

Out in a violent storm, Senta’s ­father meets a charismatic stranger and invites him home, little knowing that his daughter’s fixation is about to become unsettlingly real. Fehr’s ­production, which will open in Glasgow in April, makes much of the boom times enjoyed by Scotland’s north-east coast during the 1970s following the discovery of North Sea oil, as well as featuring a drunken ceilidh.

“The men are drunk and they go down to the jetty and start doing silly dancing – it will be authentic in the sense that they won’t be that good at the dancing,” said Fehr.

Derek Watson, chairman of the Wagner Society of Scotland, welcomed the production. “This is the way Wagner actually composed it, so I think it’s a very good thing. I’ve always wanted to see the Scottish version,” he said.

Operas set in Scotland were fashionable at the time Wagner wrote the work in 1841, and although he never spoke publicly about why he changed it ­after rehearsals had started taking place, it is believed he may have switched the ­setting at the last minute to try to stay ahead of his peers.

Watson said that although Wagner never visited Scotland, the German composer would have been influenced by Scottish culture and would have a strong image of what the 
Scotland of the day was like.

“Wagner had an uncle named Adolf Wagner, who translated Robert Burns and Walter Scott, and Wagner would have read them,” said Watson. “He was a voracious reader and would have read both of those writers as well as older writers like Ossian. He would have imagined what Scotland was like – the land, the rugged coast and the mountains – partly conjured up by reading these great 
Scottish writers.”

Francesco Corti, Scottish Opera’s director of music and conductor, said it was an interesting production to be involved with. “Wagner was in his 30s when he wrote the piece, and it shows. The music is ridden with the power and energy of a young man, and Act 3 is still one of the most 
incredible operatic moments ever written.

“The score is bursting with romantic notes which are much more incisive than his previous music, and with a rich naturalistic texture; in it you can hear the wind blowing, waves crashing on the shore and the throwing of 
anchors overboard.”

Baritone Peteris Eglitis plays the Dutchman, while soprano Rachel Nicholls sings the role of Senta for the first time. Bass Scott Wilde takes on the role of Donald and tenor Julian Galvin steps into the character of Georg. Nicky Spence, who recently sang Tamino in 
Scottish Opera’s production of The Magic Flute, is Donald’s steersman.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth, which will be celebrated at the famous Bayreuth Festival in Bavaria. No fewer than four productions of The Flying Dutchman will be performed this year. Wagner remains one of the world’s most popular operatic composers, despite the length of some his work, such as The Ring Cycle, a four-opera epic lasting 16 hours.