A Flying Stop for the Dutchman at the Grand Opera House

NI Opera brings Wagner’s famous opera back to Belfast with the help of Bruno Caproni and Giselle Allen

Legend has it that The Flying Dutchman can only come ashore once every seven years (10 in Pirates of the Caribbean), but it’s been over a generation since Wagner’s opera came to Belfast. Now, thanks to the ever ambitious NI Opera, it’s back.

‘Last time The Flying Dutchman was here was in the 70s I think,’ baritone Bruno Caproni says. ‘And that was a concert, not a full production.’

Caproni is making his Wagnerian début in this production as the eponymous, cursed Dutchman. The Bangor-born singer is better known for his work with Italian operas, reflecting his family’s cultural heritage. However, he says that The Flying Dutchman is a good role to cut his teeth on.

‘It’s a very Italianate piece anyhow, very beautiful and romantic,’ he says. ‘It’s all there, it’s all in the music. The more I study it, the more I enjoy singing it.’

His co-star Giselle Allen, who sang in NI Opera’s production of Tosca and Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw, agrees that The Flying Dutchman’s Italianate influences do make it easier to tackle than some of the more Germanic operas. The Belfast soprano has sung minor Wagnerian parts in the past and the important thing is to bring ‘strength and stamina’ to the role, while still bringing some lyricism.

‘You can’t just bawl your head off,’ she chuckles.

Senta, the Dutchman’s hopefully faithful wife, is Allen’s first major role in the Wagnerian canon. Although confident, she admits to a few more nerves than Caproni. Partially because the only reason she knew the opera was from watching Spongebob Squarepants with her daughter.

There was also the fact that, ‘My mentor Dame Anne Evans is famous as a Wagnerian soprano,’ she explains. ‘She says that Senta is is one of the hardest soprano roles, but that I could definitely do it.’

It did, she admits, take her a while to get into the characters head. Senta, Allen thinks, could do with a good talking too.

‘As a modern woman, she seems really naive and romantic. She has this absolute love for a man she’s never met,’ Allen says. ‘But she’s very spiritual and completely committed to the belief she can save the Dutchman. ‘

Caproni agrees that, in a lot of ways, The Flying Dutchman is about love.

‘One thinks about The Flying Dutchman as being a ghosts and zombies and ghost ships,’ he said. ‘But the Dutchman is a human cursed to immortality, he’s not a phantom, and he yearns for love. The music dictates his humanity.’

Something that audiences at the Grand Opera House will be able to understand, since NI Opera’s version of The Flying Dutchman will be performed in English.

‘It’s still pretty traditional,’ Caproni says. ‘But it has been updated. Oliver Mears brings out the truth and emotion of the story, without being too radical.’

The aim of the production is to make Wagner accessible to the public, with an organic emotional range for the characters. ‘Not,’ Allen explains, ‘made up operatic emotions.’

Audiences can sometimes see opera as being old-fashioned, and it puts them off the entire genre. That’s why NI Opera takes risks with their programming, such as staging a promenade Tosca in Derry~Londonderry (‘It was so much fun,’ Allen recalls. ‘I’d love to do it again.’), setting Noyes Fludde in a zoo and bringing more unusual operas to the stage in Northern Ireland.

What does that mean for The Flying Dutchman? Both Caproni and Allen are close-lipped about that, but Allen does let slip that, ‘it’s not going to be romantic at all’.

Even so, in the end, Allen says, she’d probably not do anything different if she was Senta for real. After all ‘love makes people do funny things. After all, some might say becoming an opera singer isn’t the most sensible thing in the world.’

The Flying Dutchman is at the Grand Opera House February 15 – 17