From all that's already been written about Welsh National Opera's new production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman you would have thought the evening would be full of aimless space-walks looping around abandoned space-stations, half-expecting to hear David Bowie maundering on about Major Tom.

To be fair, however, David Pountney's production is not quite like that. No-one could be so perverse as to ignore the saltiness of Wagner's surging score and the countless references to the sea and harbours in the libretto, and for most of the time I convinced myself that the imagery stayed within those parameters, with the mainstay of Robert Innes Hopkins' set a jutting, prow-like assembly of walkways.

And ship's engine-rooms can look futuristic, and deep-sea divers can look like spacemen, and the chorus costumes can look functional whether aboard ship or spinning around in satellites. Perhaps all of this was an attempt at an ironic comparison between the mariner and his successor, the astronaut.

But the final picture, of an apparent landing on Mars, left an impression crass beyond belief, and reinforced suspicions lingering throughout the evening that this was a presentation which was incoherent and visually ill-conceived.

Beneath the prow was a combination of sliding flats, endlessly shifting (perhaps to invoke a feeling of sea-sickness in the observer). Against them were projected closeups of the characters in pensive, reactive mode, and at one point, images of bourgeois cosiness beckoning enticingly to those endlessly traversing the world -- or the universe. These video backcloths are the fashion nowadays.

We didn't need any of this, unless the production team felt unconfi-dent of the power of Wagner's music and the capacity of the performers to deliver.

Which was to undervalue the tremendous account Gareth Jones persuaded from the WNO orchestra and the sonorous, vibrant chorus.

Bryn Terfel was charismatic as the cursed Dutchman, lowest notes probing, the higher reaches honeyed, and Annalena Persson was a feistily strong-willed, passionate Senta, a Wagner singer to look out for.

The other roles were unanimously well taken. Musically tremendous, production-wise dubious. 

* Running-time: Two hours, 15 minutes (no interval). Repeated tomorrow (7.15pm).

Christopher Morley