Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer (in English)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Chandos Opera in English
WORKS: Der fliegende Holländer (in English)
PERFORMER: John Tomlinson, Eric Halvarson, Nina Stemme, Kim Begley, Patricia Bardon, Peter Wedd; Geoffrey Mitchell Choir, LPO/David Parry
It’s 30 years since Peter Moores cajoled EMI into recording the Goodall Ring. Now the flagship of Chandos’s Moores-inspired Opera in English series, that set still stands the test of time as one of the essential Ring recordings, thanks to its inspirational conducting and some of the finest Wagner singing on disc, not least Alberto Remedios’s mellifluous Siegfried; the fact that it is sung in English is almost incidental to its virtues as the record of a real live cycle. Frankly, this Dutchman – Moores’s first Wagnerian offering since then – is simply not in the same class. If you want the opera in English, though, here it is, in a good, clean studio production, with some use of ‘sonic stage’ effects, excellent balance between voices and orchestra, more than adequately sung, finely played and competently conducted. And no need for jokes about the translation (by Christopher Cowell) all sounding like ‘double Dutch’ either. As the fateful seafarer, John Tomlinson’s diction is so distinct you could take dictation, while an innocent ear might never guess that the imported Swedish Senta, a blessedly unsqually (if less than ecstatic) Nina Stemme, is any less of a native Anglophone than her father, the Scandinavian-sounding but Illinois-born (and rather woolly voiced) Eric Halfvarson. Kim Begley’s properly tormented, rather than merely tiresome Erik is a real bonus. But, for so elementally tempestuous a work, it all feels rather safe and flat. Minus his compelling stage presence, Tomlinson’s dour old sea dog betrays a bit too much of a ‘Bayreuth bark’, while his pitch too often flaps around like a loose sail in a storm. No, for a really dangerous Dutchman, it’s best to go live to Bayreuth. Though sadly Woldemar Nelsson’s glowing 1985 version, with Simon Estes and Lisbeth Balslev, and Sawallisch’s even more thrilling 1961 reading, with Silja and Crass, are both now unavailable, Astrid Varnay’s radiantly reckless redeemer and Hermann Uhde’s mesmerically haunting Holländer on the 1955 Keilberth recording have rarely been bettered. Mark Pappenheim