There’s something wonderfully authentic about seeing Der fliegende Holländer in Bergen. Wandering along the historic wharf, lights glinting from the houses clinging to the steep, tree-covered hills, it is very easy to imagine Daland sailing into the port, the Dutchman’s ghostly ship close behind. Wagner’s first major opera relies on atmosphere as much as strong musical performance and John Ramster’s new production for Bergen National Opera avoids over-complication, allowing the work to speak for itself.

Iain Paterson (The Dutchman)
© Monika Kolstad | Bergen National Opera

Designer Bridget Kimak has created a set where the compressed metal prow of a ship takes centre stage atop a revolving platform. Costumes are period and an impression is immediately made in comparing Senta to the other women: where they were traditional skirts and dresses, Senta’s garb is masculine, emphasising her disconnect with her community. Ramster’s big conceit is the re-imaging of Senta as an artist; while the overture plays, we see her engrossed in a hefty tome. Disturbed, she grabs sheets, another book, frantically comparing them. A paintbrush is brandished and as the second act opens, we see her, isolated from her female companions, atop a ladder making adjustments with her brush to a huge painting of the Dutchman. It’s a neat way of explaining and working in the presence of a portrait of the Dutchman in the Daland house, and allows for a splendid moment of theatre when the portrait is raised – her work put away, one imagines – to reveal the subject himself standing behind. Jean Kalman’s lighting is at its best with the portrait as well, the black and white canvas suddenly suffused with colour, a sickly yellow light later providing sinister signposting.

Elisabeth Teige (Senta) and chorus
© Monika Kolstad | Bergen National Opera

There were numerous moments of Ramster’s direction to enjoy, and the way in which the girls created a little show with lighting and a red cloak for Senta’s ballad was a particular favourite. My only major reservation was with the Act 3 opening scene: Ramster divides the chorus, a number in (very convincing) ghostly outfits, but he intersperses them amongst Daland’s crew early on and the choreography seems jarringly at odds with the plot.

The standard of music-making was generally high. Iain Paterson, a looming figure in full length trench coat, seemed a little subdued vocally as the Dutchman, often lacking the heft to give his performance real muscle, but gave a convincing portrayal nonetheless. His acting, down to his gait and bearing, conveyed a man worn down by despair, yet still carrying a spark of hope. A strong stage presence kept attention firmly on him. Elisabeth Teige gave an impassioned performance as Senta, her projection strong and her ventures into the higher register fearless. Phrasing was reasonably good; one or two moments suggested a touch of breath control, but Teige is a generous singer and one felt the full emotional spectrum in the sensitivity of her performance. Diction, though, was not entirely solid. The chemistry with Paterson was credible and their Act 2 duet was satisfyingly moving.

Bridget Kimak's set design
© Magnus Skrede

Eric Halfvarson gave us a tremendous performance as the tightly uniformed Daland; his bass is quite substantial and he showed the projection and attention to diction of a seasoned singer. He offered several moments of comedy; the sudden dash back to the Dutchman in Act 1 as hints are made of riches, and his almost Gollum-like fixation with the gold beads given as a down payment for his daughter’s hand. Erik, Senta’s one-time betrothed, often feels like a bit of an afterthought in many productions, but Sergei Skorokhodov brought the part to life in the best assumption of the role I have seen in recent years. Rich and pathos-laden, his voice had an evenness and a clarity at the top that made his aria “Willst jenes Tag’s” one of the highlights of the evening and left one longing for more for him to sing. Credit too to Bror Magnus Tødenes for a sweetly sung Steersman, his “Mit Gewitter und Sturm” bright-toned and poetically delivered.

The crew
© Magnus Skrede

The chorus gave a rousing performance with plenty of individual detail to their behaviour on stage. The Bergen Philharmonic was on good form under Eun Sun Kim; one or two brass fluffs early on aside, there was plenty of colour, though there were times in the second act when tempi were a little too quick for personal taste.



Dominic’s press trip to Bergen was sponsored by Bergen National Opera.