This is officially the most accessible Wagner may ever be. Opera Up Close had made a lot of decisions, not necessarily for the best but hopefully, it's getting some younger people in. They've slapped upon this sea-soaked fest some arbitrary notices about immigration and the England of today. There was even an intermission!
Opera Up Close, indeed and the effect as with some Wagner was almost unbearable. This early opera still contains the dense textures and difficult vocal lines we hear later in Wagner's career. I've reservations about the change in characters' names, though this is still very much Wagner. This reimagining is thanks to Glyn Maxwell and Laura Bowler, with the original concept from Lucy Bradley. The change in libretti fans the newly layered bit of story, though traditionalists might scoff at the swearing, social media and other contemporary tics. The orchestration as well is severely reduced though features an outing for accordion (which adds to the folk charm) and a bit more percussion, the rest of the ensemble appearing more akin to the original. Just don't expect to hear the full overture...
There's little of a set aside fluttering cloths, transistor radios and the Dutchman's (sorry, Mariner's) raft. The Manchester Camerata also double as the chorus with less favourable vocals, a community chorus from the church also were used for later moments. Also of note, is the disappearance of the character of Erik, the huntsman has disappeared to tape up a past lesbian romance. Tim Burke as conductor seemed to be having fun, dressing up and singing along with the musicians, his passion emanating from his stand.
Starlight (or Senta) was an absolutely glorious Phillipa Boyle. Her command met the demands of the role, her voice ringing out in the church space and a good actress to boot. You could just see her doing more Wagner, her register is perfect and her tone very strong. The Mariner is Paul's Putnins, gloomy in the part though not always grasping the vocal essentials, though still a stoic, anguished performance I'd say. Timothy Dawkins is Captain Dee, lovely baritone moments here in a role which pops in and out of the story. Mari and Helm are both tackled by Carolyn Holt (the former part replacing Erik as said love interest) for some manic and impassioned moments, vocally strong and resilient.
I'm not quite sure if they got away with it, but other Wagner would be fascinating to see like this.
It runs till 14 July, then on tour.
Review: James Ellis Photo: Alex Brenner