The Flying Dutchman, but not as you know it, OperaUpClose, Bristol


The cult quote: “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it”, may never have really featured in Star Trek. But “It’s Wagner, folks, but not as you know it” would certainly apply to Lucy Bradley’s reworking of The Flying Dutchman for OperaUpClose.

Here performed at the probably too small Exhibition Hall, SS Great Britain, Bristol, which made the work rather too cramp and rather too loud at times, this version of the ghostly tale makes the Dutchman a people smuggler called the Captain who loses his senses on a trip to bring his illegal immigrants to England’s shores and thinks the voices from below deck are spirts rather than actual people.

(c) Alex Brenner

Pauls Putnins

(c) Alex Brenner

Carolyn Holt

This island has a wave machine (?) and the work starts with the cable laying ship – yes, we are next to the SS Great Britain whse sister ship the SS Great Eastern was used in its less glamorous later life to lay communications cables – for the electricity that powers this device that washes away any would be small boats.

On land someone called Starlight (think Senta) has some sort of yearning for a mystical man of the sea who lost his wife and child and this, I think, turns into the people trafficker when he is found by the cable vessel and brought to dry land. Maybe she just conflates the romantic tale with the rather money grabbing people smuggler who gives all his ill-gotten gains to the skipper of the cable ship to bring him to dry land.

There are others who seem to want to welcome the newcomers, but the wave machine gets activated and the would-be immigrants presumably drown along with the Captain and Starlight who have braved the wave to rescue them. I once got a bit carried away at the wave machine at Swansea Leisure Centre so I have some sympathy, although I was not living off the suffering of migrants.

(c) Alex Brenner

Timothy Dawkins

Once this trendy and heavy-handed trope is accepted, or perhaps parked (my partner said he just didn’t listen to the new Glyn Maxwell libretto and imagined it was still the Wagnerian tale of the lost seafarer and yearnings and sacrifice for love), it is a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Okay, so it will probably baffle those who do not know the Wagner opera and possible be even more baffling for those who do, but it is a bold and engaging project.

The main enjoyment is thankfully the singers Pauls Putnins, Philippa Boyle, Carolyn Holt and Timothy Dawkins supplemented by the musicians who are very effective in Laura Bowler’s transformation of Wagner into an eight-piece band. These were all heart-felt and powerful performances. Putnins, whom I last heard singing Wagner at Longborough Opera so well, is particularly rich and strong.

It was quite remarkable how the musicians and their Manchester Camerata conductor Timothy Burke became part of the action, putting on relevant clothing. This was particularly true for the flute, horn and clarinet players, to play and then sing and then play again.

(c) Alex Brenner

Phillippa Boyle

I am off to Bayreuth in August for four Wagner operas including Dutchman so I will have in the back of my mind this small stage space, the dark sheet being billowed by hand, and the up close and personal performance.


Listings information

4 – 5 July                      SS Great Britain, Bristol 

Burnel One, Great Eastern Hall, Brunel’s SS Great Britain, Great Western Dockyard, Bristol BS1 6YT

7:30pm | £25.00 (£35 Pay It Forward, £15 concs) | 023 8059 3105

7 – 8 July                      Worthing Pavilion, Worthing

                                      Marne Parade, Worthing BN11 3PX

7:30pm | £26.50 (£16.50 concs) | 01903 206206

12 – 14 July                  Grand Junction, London 

                                       Rowington Close, London W2 5TF

7:30pm | £25.00 (£35 Pay It Forward, £15 concs) | 020 7266 8258

18 – 19 July                  Trinity Market, Hull

                                      Trinity Indoor Market, Hill HU1 2JH

7:30pm | £25.00 (£15 concs) | 01482 323 638

22 – 23 July                  Invisible Wind Factory, Liverpool

3 Regent Road, Liverpool L3 7DS

7:30pm | £25.00 (£15 concs) | 0151 236 8944

@OperaUpClose | #OUCDutchman |

Touring until 23 July.

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