To be sure, it may not have been the best place to hear some of the voices, as singer's voices do tend to be quite directionally focused, and they were definitely singing over our heads. Thus some passages may have struggled to carry to our seats, but it was only small patches, with most reaching us fine, even if not with the full power those voices displayed.
And what voices! Anytime you have Eric Owens on stage is a good time. Adding the fearless and magnificent Orla Boylan and Ain Anger as well, and you have the foundations for an astonishing performance.
So, from the outset, despite this being a concert in the symphony season, it was a very theatrical event. Before the concert started, the lights were dimmed till only the stage was lit. The backdrop lit up with images of the sea as the opening chords of the prelude kicked in. From there on, the magic of Wagner began to cast his spell, weaving his impossible gothic tale of horror and redemption.
It has to be said, from the word go, the orchestra and its conductor David Robertson were on fire, wringing out every inch of drama and excitement of an admittedly already exciting score. As mentioned before, this was a very theatrical concert, so as the usual choir stalls were behind the screens, the choir was set up with the men on one side of the stage and the women the other. The offstage horns for the calls to the Dutchman's ship were towards the back of the auditorium.
From the opening notes of Anger's Daland, there was no doubt we were in for a treat. His huge beautiful bass, used to good effect last week in the Verdi Requiem took on a new level, as he clearly revelled in the role, bringing nuance born of a clear understanding of the text. This was text driven singing, rather than just singing the notes, coupled with a beautiful expressive voice.
Beside him, the Steuermann of John Tessier seemed at first a little overwhelmed, but quickly grew in strength. His higher notes soared across beautifully, expressing the longing to be back home with his unnamed (possibly nonexistent) beloved. The timbre of his voice was just right for the role, making that youthful cry all the more right.
Then of course, the Dutchman of Eric Owens arrives, the reason for this performance in many ways. Sounding at once world weary, yet still also longing for release, he brought the mythic sailor to life, in both glorious sound and menace. His performance is every bit as good as as you would expect, but like many bass voices, his comes across much richer in person than in recordings. It's an unusual sound, as you would know if you have heard it, instantly distinctive, and glorious in villainous or troubled roles. The Dutchman is very much his role, just like his Alberich for The Met, a tour de force of singing a role, seemingly written for him.
I was also expecting good things of Orla Boylan as Senta. I was not disappointed. This is not Senta as ice maiden, this is Senta as glorious flesh and blood woman, a conflicted whirlwind of emotions, powered by a glorious sliver toned voice that cut through the orchestra with ease. She made the Ballad that is her big opening number both dramatically and musically cohesive, allowing the lyrical beauty to come through, as well as the intrinsic creepiness of the piece. She could make a fine career, just singing Senta around the world if she wanted, I expect.
To me, the Erik of John Dazsak was much stronger than his tenor soloist in last week's requiem. Whether the repertoire suits him better, or if having a character to portray is what made the difference, I'm unsure, but the difference was noticeable. He was convincing as the suitor rejected by Senta, abandoned for the hero who has haunted her dreams for years.
And, while it is only a small role, I also have to say the Mary of Sally-Anne Russell was a treat. She vividly brought life to the role, and was a clear demonstration that despite the starry talent on stage, Australia too has plenty of great singers, which Sydney Symphony needs to remember when casting. I know we have some great voices around, who we should be hearing and aren't.
And, as well as the great soloists we also had excellent singing (with much better diction this time) from the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. They clearly relished being in character, and brought life to what could have been just stand and sing moments.
So, all in all another fabulous night of singing. I'm tempted to look for a ticket for Monday night to go again, though I suspect it is now all sold out...
I'll leave you with Ain Anger singing, for those who have not heard before...