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Tim Albery on Covent Garden's Flying Dutchman.

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 22 May 2011 | 12:35:00 pm

From an interview with Hugo Shirley over at during the ROH's first run of the soon to be revived Albery Dutchman.

17 February 2009

Director Tim Albery has only been an occasional visitor to London's opera houses over the past decade. Yet just a few months after bringing a new production of Musorgsky's Boris Godunov to the Coliseum, he's back in the capital to direct Wagner'sThe Flying Dutchman at the Royal Opera House.

Albery's last Wagner production in the UK was his Scottish Opera Ring, produced at the beginning of the decade. This was widely interpreted as a critique of Blair's Britain, although Albery is quick to point out: 'We never mentioned those words when working on it'. I ask if his production of the Flying Dutchman will have any similar political undertow or will it aim to capture, like his ENOBoris Godunov, a feeling of temporal universality?

'The main thing, like the Ring, is that you're dealing with a myth. It's not gods on this occasion but a figure of myth, the Dutchman, who bumps into a very real world of people like Daland. In a sense, we're trying to create a world where this figure is a fantasy projection of all the people in this tiny community, a figure who both inspires fear and is attractive, offering the idea of escape from the restrictions of that world. So you want to create a suggestion of what that narrow little world is, while at the same time allowing him both to embody the myth and be concrete enough as a character.

'The community we enter is pretty modern but I suppose it's got a Baltic, Soviet-ish feeling with that; it's the present with that slight throwback feeling that you get from all the imagery that one sees in that part of the world. It's modern in a slightly wrecked way, where equipment might be there from before the Wall came down. The spinning doesn't take place in Daland's house, for example, it's in the place where the women work. The sense in this community is that there's just one place for the women to work. What the men do is they go to sea; a few people, like Erik, live on the land. But there are not a lot of choices. The space that the show takes place in is very unreal, the whole space is a dream, if you like: it's like a ship but it isn't a ship. You don't come in and say "I see, that's a real ship", or "I see, that's a real factory". I suppose what we're trying to accomplish is that it's clear from the start that we're in a kind of mythological landscape in which dreams are possible. And yet there's a lot about it that's concrete and real: men can pull ropes on a boat, women can sew in a factory and parties can take place.'

The function of dreams in the the opera, one of Wagner's great psychological innovations, is obviously central to Albery's interpretation. 'There's a dream going on in Senta's head and there's a dream going on in the Dutchman's head: he dreams of the person who'll save him, she dreams of the person who'll take her away from all of this. Erik has a dream of Senta going away with someone else; the women all join the Ballade as if they also have a dream of escape. For some of us it's just that the grass is always greener. The notion of escape and change is there for everybody; there are plenty of Dutchmen around who are living in this sort of psychological mayhem in their heads. Wagner obviously identified hugely with the Dutchman and the notion of the creative artist in the storm of creative chaos and self-destruction: being stormy is the only psychological state that those people can really function in.'

Albery agrees with the view that the opera is in many ways a 'curious hybrid'. He goes on to explain. 'When you've done the Ring, you hear bits that look forward to that conversational mode where you're never quite sure where you're going musically. That feeling emerges sometimes and then other times it reverts back to something that feels, in that context, incredibly old-fashioned. So it's a bit disarming to work on in that way, when you're just getting into staging it like the Ring and then there's a conventional duet and you have to find a way of dealing with that too: it's not easy.'

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