Thoughts on ‘The Flying Dutchman’ as Sung in the LNO on 30 September 2018


The Latvian National Opera strikes again.

Opera consists of so many things. The getting-to. The Audience. The Dark Silence whilst the orchestra plays the overture. This time someone had taken the audience in consideration and showed little Roman numbers of the actual Acts of the play up front so people could follow the major themes and leitmotifs.
The orchestra was fabulous.

The male choir
The male choir, split into two heaps of mostly lifeless bodies, occasionally rising to song, was fabulous. Sonorous, perfectly pitched and elegantly displayed in various non-singable poses. The intensity of sound in the choruses was amazing and fulfilling. I think the male choruses generated the energy of the storm which was then supplemented, developed and explosively completed by the orchestra. Now I know what musical seasickness is.

The soloists
Intense, excellent, choreographically coordinated in spite of the many chairs they had to overcome. The singer of Senta was particularly convincing.

The gravity of puns
This merits some consideration. The stage design was apparently intended as a pun for FLYING Dutchman (See further on). Flight and airport-related imagery constantly clashed with the texts and created cognitive dissonances. The usage of mirror as a conceptual metaphor continuously contributed to that. The Hunter from the underworld with his dead oversized seagull and an undersized hunting gun was hilarious, especially in the context of the tragic image the music and the character were supposed to provide. On an alternate level in my mind, I contemplated for about an hour (and even now as I write this) the possibility of approaching a prospective partner with a dead inedible bird in my hand instead of chocolates, soup or even flowers. What are the chances of winning a partner? Um. The scene of Broken heart with him petting the dead fowl whilst confessing of thinking of Senta’s hands around his neck or something…I’d have ROFLed if not at the Opera House Where All Is Serious And Proper.
Why are pregnant women funny when the choir sings of the dead, beats me. One joke that was lost on me.
On the whole, the puns and jokes in the serious texture of the performance were … fresh and very Finnish. Some were also not so funny, but I do love a chance of splitting my personality into the black humour person laughing at the tension between the word and the image, and the regular listening person, overwhelmed with music.

The minimalist design
The Dutch Airlines uniforms and the female dress shades of blue were a rather considerate idea. The bare walls of maybe airport, maybe submarine were a little offputting. The concave design of the rotating stage was perfect. The many chairs were plain dangerous. I spent some time waiting for the performers to either stumble or lose balance. Not a circus, not fun. On the whole, very likeable and somehow logical.

The implications
The plot twists, of course, are not part of the actual performance, but they are what make the performance possible, and remain, with scraps of fanfare and the storm of violins, after the show is over for us to think of and consider. Thus:

A.the selling of daughter
Somehow the duet of Liesl and Rolf comes to mind. The world of men. The performance brought the thought of a male-dominated society to the foreground. Nobody asks Senta, they just tell her how to be and what to do, regardless of her own choices, fantastic as they might be. The lovely moment when the Dutchman approaches Senta whilst her father sits down with his riches satisfied and happy, is iconic.

B.the loving of the unseen
There is such a thing as visionary faith, visionary longing. This faith and longing sometimes condemn the visionary to a rather lonely path. Just because the society cannot see one’s ideals and truth, it does not mean they are not there. Also, just because someone is seen in a certain situation or company, it does not mean that they have entirely betrayed their ideals and truth. Listening to people helps in these situations.

C.the deafness of not listening
Another issue the opera lets one think of is how tragic it is not to listen to people, just assuming that one’s preconceptions are right by default. This is the problem of the Hunter, this is the problem of the Dutchman. Nobody listens to Senta anyway. Just like our modern society. It looks like people do not learn much over centuries.

D.the doom of faithfulness
Choosing one implies not choosing the rest. As the British say, one cannot have a cake and eat it. In the literary kitchen, of course, faithfulness is one of the plot thickeners. What is its function in the non-fictional, non-written world of human relations and shortcomings?
Senta follows her pale man into darkness. Why?
The tension between the imagined and the accessible man in the performance is so real and non-fictional that it is almost lifelike. Sung with abandon, mitigated by a dead bird, it definitely beats many fictional romance stories that we encounter these days.

A great, intense performance with strong, spicy aftertaste.

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