With an average cast, a Soviet Sci-Fi Dutchman might be mildly amusing: another Christmas bauble Boris or park-and-bark Forza to giggle over. With Bryn Terfel in the title role, it is a grave misuse of talent. Terfel's maturation as a singing actor over the course of the Covent Garden Ring cycle has been startling. What was once a gift has become an art, what was cunning has become poetic intelligence. Here, however, he plays second fiddle to Jane and Louise Wilson, whose vast video diptych of an abandoned Kazakhstan space-training centre Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard is randomly interspliced with some unflattering close-ups of Terfel and his over-stretched but promising Senta, Annalena Persson.
A star-vehicle that obscures the artistry of its lead is an odd thing indeed. Nonetheless, Terfel is the main, if not only, reason to catch WNO's dire Dutchman. Of the rest of the singers, the male chorus is consistently impressive and brilliantly prepared by Donald Nally. Gidon Saks's Daland is beautifully acted but less than beautifully sung, which could also be said of Ian Storey's strangulated Eric. Of course, any amount of squalid or silly or sensationalist direction could be forgiven were the orchestral performance exciting. Sadly, Carlo Rizzi's account is staid and dull: sounding sometimes like third-rate Verdi, and more often like Weber in a lottery winner's stretch-limo. It could be argued that this is Wagner's fault. But, like Pountney's production, Rizzi's conducting could be more solicitous of the score, its singers, and us.
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