Der fliegende Holländer - Oper Zürich - Royal Festival Hall, 15 December 2012
As they've done a few times before, Zurich Opera interrupted their home schedule to bring a concert version of a current show to the Royal Festival Hall - orchestra, singers and all.
This time round, it was their new production of Der fliegende Holländer. Both London houses have tackled it recently. Neither managed, with all the costumes, curtains and furnishing items at their disposal, anything nearly as thrilling as Zurich gave us with a bare stage - and a few top-class singers.
The Royal Festival Hall is far from ideal for opera, but Alain Altinoglu balanced his forces carefully enough never to swamp the singers. Bryn Terfel's tender pianissimos came across as clearly as his full-throated roar, and his tortured Dutchman emerged with a subtlety and complexity not apparent on his Covent Garden outing.
Matti Salminen is one of the few singers who can match Terfel for sheer stage presence. Now a remarkably robust 67, his voice has faded little with the years. His wily, authorative Daland was a formidable challenge for the Dutchman's persuasive skills.
Every high note was a gamble for Anja Kampe, and not all paid off, but no-one on that stage was more committed. Playing Senta as an overwrought teenager, she sang with real passion. Amongst the rest of the cast, house ensemble member Fabio Trümpy stood out as a sweet-toned Steuermann.
Much of the credit for the perfomance's success has to go to Alain Altinoglu though. It's an easy score to get bogged down in, but he never let it wash along. Some conductors are tempted to force it into a later Wagnerian mode, dense and sweeping, but Altinoglu's transitions were abrupt and dramatic - sometimes startlingly so - and he wasn't afraid to slow things down in the more tender moments. The Philharmonia Zürich (the new name for the Zurich opera orchestra) naturally tend towards a thin, wiry string tone, but Altinoglu worked with this to create an open-textured sound that let the details shine through.
For once, the kneejerk standing ovation at the end was fully deserved.
My only quibbles are, not for the first time, with Southbank management rather than the performers. Why was a 20 minute interval inserted when they didn't need one in Zurich? The bars were full of the usual loiterers and tourists, so it was near-impossible to get a drink, and half the toilets were closed for 'cleaning' (as they were the previous evening) so only a lucky few made it to the front of the queues before it was time to return to their seats. Much better to have carried on right through rather than lose the dramatic momentum.
Here are some pictures of the production: