Currently at Opéra de Lille, FR, until April 13

To unleash the storms of this passionate Wagner opera, La Fura dels Baus has designed a monumental and spectacular scenography, in which the myth and the characters are put in a contemporary perspective. “Love, death, eternity, curse, purity, passion, terror, are concepts and emotions whose texture has changed. We must then reconsider them, make them real, possible,” director Àlex Ollé says.

The contemporary world – he goes on – is distant from that set of Romantic beliefs on which Wagner conceived this opera: for Wagner, those were concepts “driving a search for the other side of reason. The sea itself was a powerful metaphor of the ultimate limit imposed on the human being. The sea was the infinite, the transcendent, a metaphysical look on death.” As a moment where sky and sea merge and get confused with land, a storm at sea, back then, was the moment where “the other” could interfere with “the real”: this is how the characters of this opera – both real and phantasmagorical – could encounter.

Besides reconsidering concepts and emotions to make them possible today, Ollé wanted to preserve the Romantic sense of absolute that Wagner perceived in the sea. But first of all, he started from the assumption that, based on the belief system of the time, the opera – woven with “threads of fantasy and reality” – was absolutely verisimilar at Wagner’s time.

So when approaching the staging, Ollé, Alfons Flores, and costume designer Josep Abril, repeatedly questioned themselves whether a story like this could really happen today; where and among what people. Where would a father be able of selling his daughter for money? In what place does life have so little value, death being not necessarily a bad choice in comparison?

As a starting point, the creative team came up with the idea of the port of Chittagong. Chittagong is “one of the most polluted places in the world, known as “Hell on Earth”, because of the tremendous naval cemetery where large merchant ships are broken up in a desert place in front of the immensity of the horizon.” Ollé says.

From the image of Chittagong, the team then embarked on a long aesthetic and conceptual journey towards their version of The Flying Dutchman, in which, above all, they “have tried to preserve the original values of the legend recreated by Wagner. That is why we propose a Flying Dutchman where the sea, the central metaphor, has dried out,” he says.

“The Flying Dutchman is now this ship, stranded in a desert of industrial surrealism,” he goes on. “Its ghosts ooze from its bilges and impregnate it all. They are the soul of capitalist society stuck in the reefs of XXI century. It is “the other” of our society, a look beyond the image of the Western world. A place where, while materialism breaks up everything, there is still someone willing to dream of reaching a better world. The last vestige of a saviour idealism. It is the dream in which Senta and the Flying Dutchman can still continue to rise indefinitely upward.”


The set under construction



Alfons Flores – Der fliegende Holländer (R. Wagner) – 2014
Staging Àlex Ollé / La Fura dels Baus
Set design Alfons Flores
Costume design Josep Abril
Light design Urs Schönebaum
Video design Franc Aleu
Photo credits Jean-Louis Fernandez, courtesy of La Fura dels Baus // Jb Peter Cagny
Text sources Opéra de Lille, Teatro Real