Opera passes with flying colours

REVIEW / OPERA

RICHARD WAGNER'S THE FLYING DUTCHMAN

Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) & OperaViva/ The Finger Players

Victoria Theatre/Sunday

A piece of history was made when Singapore's first complete production of a Wagner opera was staged at Victoria Theatre on Sunday. The Flying Dutchman was Richard Wagner's fourth opera and his first hit. Running just over two hours and without too complicated a plot, it made an ideal choice for a maiden attempt.

First-time opera directors Chong Tze Chien and Glen Goei gave the production a South-east Asian slant, introducing wayang kulit and shadow puppetry to great advantage.

As the Singapore International Festival of Music Orchestra conducted by Darrell Ang played the Overture, the back-story of the Dutchman, doomed to wander the Seven Seas for all eternity, was retold by puppetry alone. In the foreground, the maiden Senta (portrayed by Australian soprano Kathleen Parker) was seen obsessing with a Dutchman puppet dug out from a tok dalang's (puppet master) box. Their later meeting would prove pivotal.

Singaporean tenor Jonathan Tay's Steersman set the right atmosphere for the drama to unfold. Act 1 saw the Dutchman (Ukrainian bass-baritone Oleksandr Pushniak) and ship-captain Daland (German bass Andreas Horl, as Senta's father) strike a deal for Senta's hand in marriage. Both were well matched, the world-weary and vulnerable Dutchman a foil for the greedy and manipulative Daland.

The star was Parker's Senta, whose dramatic Ballad in Act 2 showed all the qualities of an ideal Wagner soprano. Opposite her, hunter Erik and some-time love interest (Czech tenor Jakub Pustina) was a weaker presence with his straining at higher tones.

Mezzo-soprano Candice de Rozario fulfilled her part of Senta's sidekick Mary well. The men's choir from Schola Cantorum, with just 11 singers, was just too small for the sailors' choruses while the women's choir was not always pitch-perfect in the Spinning Chorus.

The stage design could never match those of major opera houses, so Wong Chee Wai's sets relied effectively on the use of shadows and silhouettes, and a skeletal ship's hull with steps and runway being the mainstay. A kampung on stilts, spinning wheels and the simulation of waves, projected as shadows under Lim Woan Wen's evocative lighting, were also atmospheric touches.

Max Tan and Yuan Zhiying's costumes vacillated between Western and Asian, so the extravagant outfits of the Dutchman (bright red) and Daland (black and white) appeared like something out of a sci-fi pirate movie. For a production predominantly cloaked in dark hues, the contrasts were still eye-catching enough.

The final scene when Senta abandons the safety of terra firma to unite with the Dutchman, thus providing his redemption, was a poignant one.

Ultimately, it was the musical, dramatic values and story-telling that made this production stand out.

•There are four more shows tonight, Thursday (with an all-local main cast), Friday and Sunday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'Opera passes with flying colours'. Print Edition | Subscribe