Iain Paterson's house debut as the Holländer, a role he sang earlier this season for the first time with Opera Vlaanderen, was sufficient reason to drop anchor in the Main for this revival of David Bösch's 2015 production. Bösch's Royal Opera production of Il trovatore will reach Frankfurt next season and those familiar with its aesthetic would easily recognise it in this production of Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer right down to the pyrotechnic ending.

Wolfgang Koch (Dutchman) and Erika Sunnegårdh (Senta) © Barbara Aumüller (2015)
Wolfgang Koch (Dutchman) and Erika Sunnegårdh (Senta)
© Barbara Aumüller (2015)

The use of the 1843 Dresden one act version without the Tristanesque redemptive finale to both the opera and its overture set the tone for the evening with the curtain opening on a black raked stage with a shiny floor, bare except for dangling noose-like ropes, scattered beer crates and torn plastic sheeting blowing in the wind. Flashes of blinding, in my case at least, strobe lighting lit the scene while the Steersman, in a state of inebriation, tottered on a chair. A rubber dinghy, borrowed from Bieito's Stuttgart production, served as Daland's ship. A giant turning propeller was lowered as the Holländer entered with a crew of leather-clad Hell's Angel bikers, their headlights beaming across the stage, planting crosses and skulls like piratical rockers.

Paterson, commandingly tall and clad in a black cloak, displayed his warm-toned bass-baritone in the opening monologue, “Die Frist ist um”, and its soft-edged burr was initially better suited to the reflective cantilena passages longing for redemeptive “Erlösung”, than the driven nihilistic declamatory passages, where more edge and focus in the lower range would have cut through the orchestra. In this determinedly bleak vision the release from his damned wanderings was most likely by means of the revolver which he held to his head.

Erika Sunnegårdh (Senta) © Barbara Aumüller (2015)
Erika Sunnegårdh (Senta)
© Barbara Aumüller (2015)

The transition to Daland's home brought little relief to the pervasive gloom, being set in a sweatshop turning out wedding dresses. The obsessed Senta, Erika Sunnegårdh, self-harming with scissors, was more cautious than driven in her Ballad, carefully negotiating the vocal leaps and top notes. In the concluding duet of Act 2, “Wie aus der Ferne”, her voice settled and gained steadiness in her pledge of faithfulness unto death and Paterson sustained a line of Lieder-like intensity.

As the third part of the triangle, Vincent Wolfsteiner's hefty heldentenor gave profile to Erik, though at the expense of lyric flexiblity in this role, whose writing looks back to Italian models.

By the end of the last act there was clearly no expectation of a grand Romantic finale, but in his own terms Bösch failed to deliver a psychologically convincing narrative resolution. After Senta's apparent betrayal the Holländer's crew splattered petrol across the stage from jerry cans as he exited inconspicuously down stage. The propeller burst alight and Senta sat distractedly as the flames spluttered and fizzled fitfully during the abrupt final bars.

Erika Sunnegårdh (Senta) © Barbara Aumüller (2015)
Erika Sunnegårdh (Senta)
© Barbara Aumüller (2015)

The augmented male chorus sang vigorously but were given little dynamic engagement by the director, being clumped centre-stage for the last act's drunken revelry. The other cast members were well taken by ensemble members, Andreas Bauer as a firm-voiced, venal Daland, Michael Porter as a Mozartean Steuerman, and Maria Pantiukhova in her role debut as Mary.

Music Director Sebastian Weigle conducted a swift, alert performance in this transitional early work, though lacking in the sense of cosmic ebb and flow of souls cast adrift.