Opera being a strongly visual art form as well as a musical one, the idea of a pure concert performance seems a little strange to those unfamiliar with the form. However, removing the necessity for singers to run around (often in uncomfortable-looking costumes), negotiate (sometimes uncooperative) props and scenery, and bodily convey their thoughts and feelings in a manner visible to amphitheatre Row W, allows for 100% concentration on the music, in particular the expression of character and emotion through voice alone. This is no problem at all for Bryn Terfel, who took full advantage of the Royal Festival Hall’s acoustic to give us an unusually sensitive, human Dutchman, that both allowed him to show off the full expressive, dynamic and tonal range that has made him such a favourite, while being no less convincing in the role for being wearing a tuxedo rather than oilskins and boots.

Another factor that makes Terfel such an interesting performer is that where some singers tend to give identikit performances of their favourite roles (merely dressed up in new clothes for each stage), each time he sings a role, it is different, tailored to fit productions’ different takes on the story. In this case, “Die Frist ist um” – one of his signature arias – sounded quite different to how it did at the Welsh National Opera in 2006, the Royal Opera House in 2009, and on his studio recordings, but was, as always, electric. Anja Kampe has sung Senta to Terfel’s Dutchman before, and the pairing works well. She also was completely convincing, expressively overflowing with confused monomaniacal teenage passion, while vocally rounded and burnished (except, perhaps, in the very top notes). It was a treat to see Matti Salminen (one of my favourite Hagens) as Senta’s avaricious father Daland, and if his voice is a little dryer and less flexible than it was once, he nevertheless had a glorious booming blackness that shone out (if dark timbres can be said to shine) in the lower register. In the smaller roles, late replacement Martin Homrich was a suitably unpleasant Erik, alternating between possessively demanding and pathetically whinging at Senta, Liliana Nikiteanu a hearty Mary, and young Fabio Trümpy demonstrating a vocal clarity and easy legato that made the Steersman’s scene more engaging than it often is.

Also in fine voice and giving their all to one of Wagner’s less inspired moments was the Zurich female chorus. It is probably the first time that, when Senta interrupts the “Spinning Chorus” with “Oh, stop that stupid song!”, I hadn’t been sitting there wishing she’d get on and stop them sooner. If that sounds like faint praise, I should add that they gave me proper goosebumps in Act III, when they realise the true tragic nature of the Dutchman’s unsociable crew. On the men’s side, the chorus of Norwegian sailors, a little uneven at the start, picked up later on, and the entry of the Dutchman’s crew for the climax of Act III packed great dramatic intensity (despite their rather uncomfortable physical entry, shuffling in through the door and onto a corner of the stage).

While voices represent the human (or ghost) participants in the story, the orchestra, meanwhile, must provide the setting. In this case, the setting which the overture should provide is a violent storm at sea, and this storm was somewhat careful – polite, even – and lacked the necessary violence. This is not to say it was not enjoyable musically, as the care and attention paid to this and other instrumental sections allowed the often-muddied complexities of the score to clarify, and usually-obscured details to come through. In general, the instrumental playing was thoughtful, texturally beautifully well-balanced and blended, and with only one or two members (it would be unkind to point out whom) not maintaining an otherwise high level of precision. It is of course a matter of preference, but I found conductor Alain Altinoglu’s take on the score to be too compartmentalised – rather stop-and-start and lacking in long line, with a couple of sudden tempo changes that brought to mind an overexcited driver slamming a foot alternately onto the brakes and the accelerator. However, by Act II the structure of the music began to gel more effectively, the periods of intensity increasingly joined-up, and I am happy to say that in Act III I got all the raging storm and crashing waves I wanted.