The Flying Dutchman

Melbourne Opera Lee Abrahmsen as Elizabeth in TannhauserFollowing the critical and public success of Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, and Tristan and Isolde, Melbourne Opera is once again turning its attention to Wagner’s rich repertoire staging the The Flying Dutchman (Der Fliegende Holländer) at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre this week.

Following his critically acclaimed Australian debut with Melbourne Opera’s Tristan and Isolde in 2018, one of the world’s greatest Wagnerian maestros, Anthony Negus, will return to conduct an exceptional international cast, a 90-strong Melbourne Opera Chorus and specially augmented Melbourne Opera Orchestra

Celebrated as one of the great Wagner interpreters of his generation, in 2017 Negus was awarded the Wagner Society’s Reginald Goodall Memorial Award for outstanding services to Wagner’s music and musical life.

Melbourne Opera has secured distinguished international baritone Darren Jeffery, who will perform the title role of The Dutchman – a captain cursed to sail the seas for eternity, cast up only once every seven years to try to find a faithful wife who will release him from the curse.

In his Australian debut, Jeffery will grace Melbourne audiences with the voice that has carried his illustrious career across some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses, including Covent Garden and the English National Opera. He has also received two Grammy Awards for his contribution to recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Joining Jeffery, in the central female role of Senta, is multi-award winning Australian soprano Lee Abrahmsen. Abrahmsen will take to the Regent stage following a remarkable few years, which included two critically-acclaimed Melbourne Opera performances – as Isolde in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier.

Other recent highlights include her acclaimed performance as Elizabeth in Melbourne Opera’s Tannhauser, her Opera Australia debut as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro and singing Puccini’s Tosca with the Australian Discovery Orchestra.

Adding to Melbourne Opera’s standout cast for The Flying Dutchman is sublime Australian tenor Rosario La Spina, who will make his Melbourne Opera debut, performing the role of Erik. In addition to a hugely successful career at home, which includes numerous acclaimed Opera Australia performances, La Spina has also triumphed internationally, performing across opera houses such as La Scala in Milan, New Zealand Opera, Seattle Opera and Canadian Opera in Toronto.

Other cast taking to stage for this dramatic opera include mezzo soprano Roxane Hislop as Mary, Michael Lapina as Der Steuermann and Melbourne Opera favourite Steven Gallop, who will perform the role of Daland.

Melbourne Opera’s new production of The Flying Dutchman is in the inspired hands of director Suzanne Chaundy, whose productions of Tannhäuser, Lohengrin and Tristan and Isolde received resounding acclaim and several awards. Chaundy will scrutinise this 19th Century Opera through a feminist lens.

“When I accepted this opera, I knew finding an interpretation of the central female character of Senta would be my biggest challenge,” says Chaundy. “How do you portray her willing sacrifice, to save a man she barely knows, in a way that is palatable to 21st Century audiences?”

“The key for me is to interrogate in what sort of society stories of such repressed fantasies arise. Like Senta, the Dutchman is another outsider, trapped by a curse, who has paid a heavy price for his rebellion. Going against the flow of entrenched behaviour they are compelled to each other to transcend their torments. The explosive pressure they feel and their need for release drives this work. They are highly complex characters,” she added.

The setting for Chaundy’s The Flying Dutchman is in an uncomplicated Norwegian seafaring community where the women stay home spinning, sewing, cooking and waiting for their men to return from their adventurous lives at sea. They all share a dream of marriage and a simple life.  Against this backdrop Chaundy envisions Senta as a radical, isolated by her imagination, rebellion and yearning for more.

Chaundy’s production will evoke a folkloric past with a twist which will be bought to life using physical theatre choreographed by movement director Verity Hunt-Ballard, and a transforming design by award-winning design team Andrew Bailey (Sets), Harriet Oxley (Costumes) and Rob Sowinski (Lighting Design).

The Flying Dutchman famously possesses some of Wagner’s most memorable music and audiences can expect to be awestruck by a host of evocative arias and ensembles, including the tempestuous Overture, Senta’s Ballad, the sublime Dream Aria duet and the stirring Ghost Chorus in Act III.

The Flying Dutchman is Melbourne Opera’s first production of its 2019 season. It will be sung in German with English surtitles and performed, as Wagner originally conceived it, without an interval – in a fluid production, suggestive of the whirl and spin of the music and the turbulent lives of the central characters.

The Flying Dutchman
Regent Theatre, 191 Collins Street, Melbourne
Season: 3 – 7 February 2019
Information and Bookings:

Image: Lee Abrahmsen as Elizabeth in Tannhauser (supplied)