ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Auckland

05/10/2013 - 12/10/2013

St James Theatre 2, Wellington

14/09/2013 - 21/09/2013

Production Details

Artists assemble for bold new production 

When New Zealand Opera’s season of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman opens, some of the biggest and best voices in the business will be on stage.

Aidan Lang, General Director of NZ Opera, says Wagner’s magnificent music requires singers who possess vocal power and stamina as well as acting prowess. “And we feel confident we have achieved this with our international cast,” he says. “The leading principals – Welsh baritone Jason Howard (The Dutchman), New Zealand bass Paul Whelan (Daland), and Irish soprano Orla Boylan (Senta) – have all received the highest accolades for their previous Wagnerian roles, while English tenor Peter Auty (an intense and superbly sung Turiddu in 2011’s Cavalleria rusticana) makes his Wagnerian debut as Erik. In smaller roles, but also taking to the stage with all the right credentials are New Zealanders Shaun Dixon (tenor, The Steersman) and Wendy Doyle (mezzo soprano, Mary).” 

This new production of The Flying Dutchman is New Zealand’s first fully staged Wagner opera in over 20 years. It is also a production of bold proportions, created by award-winning Director Matt Lutton and Designer Zoe Atkinson, two highly imaginative and creative Australians of the same generation as Wagner when he wrote the opera, aged just 28. 

In later years Wagner referred to opera as ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, or ‘total work of art’, the synthesis of the poetic, visual, musical and dramatic arts. “Although The Flying Dutchman is an early example of Wagner’s work,” Lang says, “it contains a glorious fusion of all these art forms. 

“And if you’ve never experienced Wagner before and are curious to, this opera will likely hook you forever,” he adds. 

Featuring the Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus, with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in Wellington, and the Auckland Philharmonia in Auckland, The Flying Dutchman is a co-production between New Zealand Opera and Opera Queensland. It is sung in German with English surtitles. 


Wellington – St James Theatre
Sat 14, Thu 19, Sat 21 September, 7:30pm; Tue 17 September, 6:00pm

Auckland – ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre
Sat 5, Thu 10, Sat 12 October, 7:30pm; Tue 8 October, 6:30pm

Single Tickets: $49.50 to $189.50. Concessions available for benefactors, senior citizens, students and group bookings. Service fees apply.

Bookings: NZ Opera Box Office, Tel 0800 NZOPERA/696 737, (09) 379 4068 or (04) 499 8343, or:

Auckland: The Edge, Tel 0800 BUYTICKETS (0800 289 842) or 

Wellington: Ticketek, Tel 0800 TICKETEK (0800 842 538) or 

*WARNING: contains nudity 

The Dutchman:  Jason Howard 
Senta:  Orla Boylan
Daland:  Paul Whelan
Erik:  Peter Auty
The Steersman:  Shaun Dixon
Mary:  Wendy Doyle 

Production Designer:  Zoe Atkinson
Lighting Designer:  Jon Buswell

Just how 'Dutchman' should be

Review by William Dart 07th Oct 2013

After some impressive recent concert presentations of Wagner by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, NZ Opera brings us the real McCoy with Matthew Lutton’s high-voltage production of The Flying Dutchman.

The young Australian director makes all the right moves. He wisely leaves sea and storm to the capable APO under Wyn Davies, evoking weather conditions that, outside of the Aotea Centre, would have you scrambling for your oilskins. [More]


Make a comment

Engages and challenges as it astounds, thrills and shocks

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 06th Oct 2013

Slow-burning yet powerful, this co-production of The Flying Dutchman, by New Zealand Opera and Opera Queensland, is as bold as it is perplexing. The performances by the six leads, are thrilling. 

Welsh born baritone Jason Howard, in the title role, is brooding and intense, embodying an ominous yet captivating stranger, even before he sings. When he does, his deep, rich resonance conveys the torment and longing of the doomed Dutchman to perfection.

Senta is played flawlessly by Irish born soprano Orla Boylan, who communicates her uncontrollable fascination with the Dutchman exquisitely, not only when in full and fluid vocal flight but also in soft, reflective moments.

Both tenors deliver fine yet contrasting performances. Playing the Steersman, Shaun Dixon is infinitely watchable, plus his voice is wonderfully clear and bright: a welcome reprieve from Wagner’s dense, stormy sea score in Act 1. Dixon is a versatile performer, adding just the right measure of humour and buffoonery in Act 3.

In the role of Erik, Englishman Peter Auty throws open his heart and voice with tangible emotion and urgency, as he pleads with Senta to stay true to her affection for him, and forget the Dutchman. 

Wendy Doyle delivers an engaging performance as Mary, Senta’s nurse, and brings excellent upbeat energy to the stage in Act 2. However, she is let down by the stage (or venue?) acoustic, which seems to swallow her vocal projection, when she sings from upstage.

Paul Whelan has superb stage presence, and delivers a solid performance as Daland, Senta’s father.

With New Zealander Andrew McKenzie in the role of Assistant Director, Australian Director Matthew Lutton’s stamp and style is an intriguing mix of everyday rituals (such as tidying one’s hair before social interaction); working class domestic detail (such as takeaway pizza, beer and chips for party food; plus cheap and cheerful sunglasses) and, in complete contrast, bold yet minimalist representative imagery.

Production designer Zoe Atkinson’s ‘curtain’ is intriguing– perhaps indicative of a sail from the 17th century, or a blank canvas? However, her ‘wall’ (representative of the Dutchman’s vessel and presence) is a visual triumph. But the lack of sound effects to match the wall’s sensational final moment means is an opportunity lost.

Lost opportunities and moments missed is how I feel about some aspects of Jon Buswell’s lighting design. In Act 1, the tone and mood of a cold unforgiving raging ocean is brilliantly depicted by Buswell through all shades of grey, showing dynamic perspective and spots across the stormy seas. As the wall approaches, Buswell’s illumination is again, stunning. However, Act 2, set back on terra firma, while brighter and open, is comparatively static, with the exception of a shaft of light through a doorway. While Act 3 finally brings some colour, in the form of Atkinson’s pastel palette of contemporary party dresses and shirts, the lighting remains somewhat featureless.

Lutton’s use of the chorus as one entity, especially the male chorus, is superb. Their movement in Act 1, as they lie in the cabin of their ship as it’s tossed about, is sparing and contained yet hugely affective. The men’s performances are riveting, as they breathe, sleep, dream, yearn and feel – as one, like a modern twist on the Greek chorus.

In Act 2, it’s the women’s turn to shine on their own, before interaction and meetings develop and take hold. Act 2 opens with the women working in a mannequin factory. Lutton ingeniously has them polishing, dusting and fussing over the perfect plastic frames and tidy tailored jackets, as if they are building the men of their dreams, before placing them looking out to sea, in anticipation of the arrival of the real thing.

Lutton explores the ugly side of drunkenness in Act 3, as men and women celebrate to excess, then taunt the Dutchman’s sailors, with crudities-a-plenty, as they remain motionless, head in hands, and disengaged. When the Dutchmen’s posse finally do stir, their look and slow action is as harrowing as the little girl ghost in the 2002 horror film, The Ring. Top marks to the 9 male models (as well as female model T-Ann Manora from Act 1), who add memorable dynamism to the production. 

John Rosser’s chorus look and sound their anticipated high standard. Acoustically, the male chorus are deliciously resonant in their Act 1 cabin, which seems to capture their vocals like a ‘sound shell’. However, the women, in particular the altos, are hard to hear during Act 2 as they multi-task, singing as they perform their hands-on factory work. The lack of vocal projection is clearly the outcome of stage direction and acoustics, rather than voice, as the women totally redeem themselves when singing downstage and unencumbered. 

The Auckland Philharmonia, under the mastery of Wyn Davies, set their standard for the night during the stirring overture, which conveys Wagner’s complexities and drama, as well as the composer’s lighter vulnerable moments, with equal precision and ease. The orchestra is uniformly brilliant, and it is easy to imagine rumbling waves and roaring winds. Special mention goes to the basses, which shine during their brief feature moments, as do the virtuosic violins at one point in the overture. The tuba, brass and oboe, also play their solo moments vividly. 

Overall, this Flying Dutchman is not for the prim or prudish, as while some moments will astound and thrill, others may shock.  However, this is just what a night of modern opera should do: engage and challenge. So congratulations to company director Aidan Lang, General Director New Zealand Opera, for taking this risk, and to the creative team for doing the same.


Make a comment

Ships in the Night?

Review by Sharu Delilkan 06th Oct 2013

Not having seen a Wagner Opera before I was intrigued to discover what all the fuss was about. 

The stage curtain represented an old sailing clipper sail, which gave nothing much away as to what we were about to experience, as we were treated to The Flying Dutchman‘s Overture, which unfortunately did seem a tad protracted. 

The visual aspect of the set did not disappoint, with a modern contemporary imagining of Captain Daland’s (Paul Whelan) ship and the surrounding stormy seas. Jon Buswell’s lighting was equally effective, utilising direct lights from below to highlight the performers and cast multiple dramatic shadows on the set. [More]


Make a comment

A thrill for the senses

Review by Michael Gilchrist 15th Sep 2013

Genuinely daring, fearlessly contemporary, utterly convincing. These are the descriptors that come to mind after this marvellous evening from NZ Opera. This production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman – staged in the bicentenary of the composer’s birth – is in fact the first of a series of co-productions with Opera Queensland.

General Director of NZ Opera, Aidan Lang, cites a strong artistic bond between the two companies, as well as practical imperatives, as reasons behind the collaboration. That rings true. Production designer Zoe Atkinson and Director Matthew Lutton – both from Australia – combine with New Zealander Andrew Mackenzie as Assistant Director and Lighting Designer Jon Buswell from England, to make a formidable team. Indeed, it’s appropriate to mention these names first of all because the production design, and the integration of design and direction in this show, are quite outstanding. 

From the moment the curtain rises on the light-leaking, dreamy, geometric bunkhouse of the crew’s quarters, pierced by ladders of shadow and u-boat like manholes, we feel joined to Wagner’s journey of psychological discovery; this pioneering nineteenth century voyage into the ‘unheimlich’, or uncanny.

The key to this journey is the double tendency which Freud highlights in that German term. It names not just the upsurge of unconscious drives into the calm surface of our lives but the falling down of the familiar and homely into the outgoing rip of the unconscious. The outrageous and unspeakable suddenly appears mundane and explicit; the humble and ordinary becomes strange and threatening.

Grasping this twofold principle gives the design and the acting – particularly the ensemble acting – an extraordinary assurance. Perhaps it is Atkinson’s background in European puppet theatre, where the uncanny finds many of its paradigms, that gives her such a sense of the different dimensions in which this dynamic may be expressed, from the symbolic to the textural to the scalar.

There are many coups de theatre, which I won’t spoil here, and the technical ambition of the production is also notable. But the great thing is that this approach makes the unfolding of Wagner’s story seem at once historically revealing and completely contemporary – contemporary for us who live in a time where everything is explicit and, simultaneously, the cult of the vampire and the willing female sacrifice flourishes.

In this environment, too, the performers seem to shed any trace they might bear of stiffness or uncertainty. There is a collective, bodily immediacy in the male chorus in the first act, an apparently effortless cohesion, expressed both in sound and movement. Likewise, in the second act the female chorus act as if with one mind and yet with an uninhibited sense of individuality.  This makes for stunning, seamless drama. Altogether this is a big powerful chorus producing a superb sound whose acting would grace any non-musical stage, all of which no doubt also reflects the standard of their direction. 

The performances in the lead roles entirely justify the expectations we have of this considerable assembly of talent and experience. Foremost in this regard, perhaps, is Jason Howard as the Dutchman. He displayed a complete understanding of the role, a faultless baritone and plenty of the brooding sex appeal necessary in this role.

Likewise Orla Boylan as Senta gives a splendidly embodied performance with thrilling vocal power. Paul Whelan is a strong and secure Daland and I like the way his restraint shows up some strange ambiguities in this paternal role. Peter Auty’s performance as Erik is warmly received and this reflects a thoroughly convincing characterisation of Senta’s jilted – and bewildered – suitor.

Shaun Dixon relishes his role as the Steersman. He has a tenor voice of rare quality and beautiful tone with acting talent to spare. His portrayal of a bawdy leader of sailors is exceptional. Wendy Doyle as Mary fully maintains the high standard set by her peers.

Leading the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in their first performance since 2002, the vastly experienced Welsh maestro Wyn Davies draws beautiful tone and dynamics from the orchestra and the singers. Overall – for me, however, on opening night – the musical direction was too ponderous. There were too many caesura, too many pregnant pauses, too much deliberation in the tempi for this Dutchman to realise its full potential and really fly.

Too often, contrasts in mood and tone were made at the expense of the onward movement of the drama and the fluidity of the connection between those two psychological dynamics I’ve mentioned. It felt as if the audience were being cued for these contrasts in an entirely unnecessary manner. This tendency diminished steadily as the opera progressed. By the third act my frustration had almost completely subsided, but I feel sure there is room for improvement in this respect.

This said, however, the rapturous reception accorded this production by the audience on opening night seems to me entirely justified. This is leading edge creative endeavour in an extraordinarily demanding and, therefore, uniquely rewarding medium. It’s a thrill for the senses no one should miss. 

The confidence of this production in all its aspects is particularly exciting. That confidence not only makes this Flying Dutchman a must see for anyone who enjoys compelling drama of any kind; it makes us feel that there is no limit to the fresh perspectives that this company can open for us in the future.


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council