Opera Scotland

The Flying Dutchman

Flying Dutchman in Scotland

Posted 1 Mar 2013

Wagner's operas took some time to reach Britain, having gathered a reputation for extreme seriousness and modernity.  The first performance  of The Flying Dutchman in Scotland was at the Edinburgh Theatre on Friday 23 February 1877.  The performers were the Carl Rosa Opera company singing in English, and the lead roles were taken by Charles Santley and Ostava Torriani, with Carl Rosa himself conducting.  The Scotsman critic, in the course of a notice 1400 words long, wrote "The chief novelty of the season, Wagner's Fliegende Holländer, given last night, drew a very full and enthusiastic house."  Santley gave an unforgettable and magnificent performance, and the critic went on to say that Mr Carl Rosa can hardly be overpraised for the evening. "All the scenic effects, except the final apotheosis, were nearly as well given as at the great opera houses in Germany."   In the course of the season's tour, it was given four times in Edinburgh and twice in Glasgow.

The company brought the work back to Scotland in 1882.  In 1912, the Denhof company, set up in Edinburgh two years earlier to perform a highly ambitious repertoire, tackled the piece.  The conductor, Michael Balling, was a regular at Bayreuth, and the cast included Frederic Austin as the Dutchman, Maurice D'Oisly as Erik and Frederick Ranalow as Daland.  The Carl Rosa brought the opera back to Scotland in 1930, with the Scottish soprano Helen Ogilvie as Senta.

The famous staging by Sadler's Wells visited Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdenn in 1965-66.  The sophisticated lighting, producing atmospheric ghostly effects, was by Charles Bristow, and the singers included Elizabeth Fretwell and Raimund Herincx, with Alberto Remedios as Erik.

The Flying Dutchman has been performed twice at the Edinburgh International Festival, on both occasions by the Hamburg State Opera.  In 1968 David Ward and Hans Sotin shared the title role, with Anja Silja as Senta, while Franz Grundheber led a concert version in the Usher Hall in 2009, with Nikolai Schukoff as Erik, conducted by the Australian Simone Young.

Scottish Opera's only previous staging was a 1987 co-production with Washington DC.  Sir Alexander Gibson conducted John Cox's production, in which the front of the stage became a ship's deck, rocking from side to side.  The Dutchman was sung by the great Wagnerian baritone Norman Bailey, with Kathryn Harries as Senta, John Treleaven as Erik, and the Norwegian bass Oddbjørn Tennfjord as Daland.

Wagner originally intended to set the opera in the North Sea, on the Scottish coast, but during the final rehearsals this was changed to Norway.  The new Scottish Opera production is one of the first to set the opera in Scotland in accordance with Wagner's original plan.

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