A Triumphant Opening Night

“The Flying Dutchman” at Singapore’s Victoria Theatre is a highly dramatic, emotionally intense and colourful production.

Senta, played by Australian soprano, Kathleen Parker, establishes her assertiveness from the very first, when she commands the stage throughout the overture, already establishing a strong bond of empathy to the “Flying Dutchman”, represented at that point by shadow puppetry.

Oleksandr Pushniak, wearing a striking red costume and high-crested headgear, plays the Dutchman. He ably captures the despair the Dutchman feels when he first lands after seven years at sea and the joy he experiences when it seems that, at last, he has found in Senta the woman he has long sought.

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Oleksandr Pushniak as Flying Dutchman

Daland, Senta’s father, is so overwhelmed by his desire for the treasure the Dutchman offers in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage that he is unable to hide his true feelings. Andreas Hörl conveys this powerfully not only by his words, but with his expressions and body language.

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Daland seals his bargain with the Dutchman

The fourth of the international leads in this performance is Jakub Pustina, whose Erik wrings the heart with his appeals to Senta and his evocation of the love that he believed they had for each other, and which he still feels with undiminished force.

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Erik (Jakub Pustina) tries to persuade Senta (Kathleen Parker)

Choral pieces such as the spinning song and the sailors’ chorus in Act Three are handled well musically and dramatically by the local singers. Due credit must be given to Candice de Rozario, as Mary, acquiiting herself well in her first operatic role, and Jonathan Tay, as the steersman with the song of longing for his sweetheart at home.

One scene that requires a fine touch is that in which Senta sings her ballad to the village women, which can sound clunky with its repeated emphases, but both orchestra and Kathleen Parker achieved just the right balance, firm but without sounding like stamped feet.

senta-ballade
The village women are alarmed at Senta’s declaration that she hopes to be the woman saving the Dutchman

The opera builds to an emotional climax, as the Dutchman leaves in despair, thinking himself betrayed by Senta and she, having vainly protested her loyalty to him, proves it in no uncertain fashion before the horrified gaze of her entire community.

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This is certainly a “Dutchman” with a difference. The puppetry element gives both an extra dimension to the story telling and more of a sense of movement than in most “Dutchman” productions. It feels like it belongs, rather than something simply added on, whether it’s a storm-tossed ship silhouetted early on or the shadow figures that echo Senta and the Dutchman’s first encounter. Changing background colours suit the moods of the on-stage action.

The Sunday opening night performance ended with prolonged applause. This “Flying Dutchman” with a Southeast Asian setting was an ambitious undertaking that was well realized in every way, musically, dramatically and artistically.

story by John Gee, photos by Ngiap Heng Tan

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