According to the legend recounted in Wagner’s opera, the Flying Dutchman is doomed to sail the seas, putting into port only every seventh year. It is less than that – only three years – since Bryn Terfel’s Dutchman sailed into London for the first time at the Royal Opera House, but it is unlikely anybody will have complained at his speedy return.
This concert performance of Der fliegende Holländer marked the Zurich Opera’s first showing at the Southbank Centre since 2009. The company is in the middle of a run of performances of the opera that stretches into the New Year and, as with its previous visits, brought to London a cast fully immersed in performing the work on stage.
It was an unforgettable evening – for one reason. Terfel’s Dutchman, already a very considerable portrayal before, has grown and deepened to create a truly titanic experience. It is not just that he sings the role so well, though he was in spectacularly good voice and the heroic fullness of sound was magisterial. Beyond that, he also sang very quietly, as he often does, but drawing here on a withdrawn, mystic tone that suggested a back story to the character receding almost out of reach – a lifetime of loneliness, of suffering, of being set apart from the rest of mankind. This was a towering achievement that at times threatened to blow the roof off the Royal Festival Hall.
Zurich Opera provided him with mostly good company. As at Covent Garden, he was partnered with the exciting Senta of Anja Kampe, who had some hit-and-miss moments (several lines in her long duet with Terfel went by the board) but recovered to let fly some fearless top notes. Matti Salminen, still a potent force, made a Daland at once imposing and humorous. Martin Homrich stepped in at the last moment as Erik; Fabio Trümpy and Liliana Nikiteanu were the able Steersman and Mary. Not helped by the addition of an interval, the Zurich visitors performed tidily but tamely under their conductor Alain Altinoglu, leaving Wagner’s orchestral tempests sounding very mild. There was just one hurricane in this performance and that was Terfel. It will be a lot more than seven years before we hear his equal.