22 February 2015

The Flying Dutchman

Victorian Opera
Palais Theatre,
15 February 2015

Four or five bars were enough and I grinned to myself. We had an orchestra that knew what it was doing. So they were Young People. So? So the youngest was 15. So? To quote Jason*, ‘Your point being?’.

Orchestrally speaking it’s what comes out of the pit that matters. Not that it was, strictly speaking, a pit - more like a small depression in the stalls’ floor with excited fans held at bay by a small post-and-rail fence. (How Aussie!)

It’s always a risk with a pit orchestra. If the strings are not exactly in tune the high notes, where the strings are most exposed, sound unhappy. They didn’t. If the bangers and thumpers up the back are not exactly on their game the bang stands out like the proverbial dog’s. Not this lot. If they’re in a hole in the ground the sound is dead. They weren’t; it wasn’t.

But at about bar four I relaxed. It’s a point I’ve made before about AYO: with them we get enthusiasm and energy. It’s something missing from some of our orchestras and I know that, of itself, it’s far from being enough to guarantee a great performance.

As well, the musicianship and technical skill of the musos of the AYO was also obvious early on. But the overture was only a taster for the spin-tingling performance of Senta’s Act II aria, Traft ihr das Schiff. Lori Phillips, Richard Mills and the AYO came together in a tightly drawn, magnificently sung, brilliantly accompanied, emotionally charged performance.

Senta is obsessed with the portrait of the Dutchman that she’s clutching. She’s slowly going mad with love, singing to the image.
Have you seen the ship upon the ocean
with blood‑red sails and black masts?
On her bridge a pallid man,
the ship's master, watches incessantly …
Let me be the one whose loyalty shall save you!
May God's angel reveal me to you!
Through me shall you attain redemption!**

Mary (Liane Keegan) L; Senta (Lori Phillips) R from

The orchestration provides the clues about Senta’s psychological degradation: bassoons and so on. And that’s not going to work if the orchestra and the conductor – together – don’t know exactly what they are doing. And they did. They did!

Dr Mills had worked hard with that orchestra: intensive rehearsals section by section, teaching them to listen to the mini-ensembles they were part of and to find the broad sweeping lines of intense emotion that are fundamental to this – and the other – Wagner master-operas.

So it all came down to the Artistic Director of VO. He took the risk – there never was one – of hiring the AYO and he worked them into the ground. He, Richard Choc-o-late Bonbon Mills*** even organised a special gig for the quintet of off-stage horns: a reprise in the dress-circle foyer before the opera - their mini 'on-stage' moment.

* my mate. Well, one of ‘em
*** CJ Dennis in The Sentimental Bloke, about Ginger Mick, ‘A choc-o-late bonbon, tough on the outside, soft on the inside.’

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