OPERA NEWS - Der Fliegende Holländer
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In Review > North America

Der Fliegende Holländer

Dallas Opera

In Review Dallas Dutchman hdl 119
Alden’s Fliegende Holländer staging at Dallas Opera
© Karen Almond/Dallas Opera

CHRISTOPHER ALDEN returned to Dallas Opera with Wagner’s Fliegende Holländer, forty years after his company debut directing the same opera. Holländer was a significant step in Wagner’s development of his language—the blurring of recitative–aria distinctions, the use of leitmotifs for major characters, the ideal of redemption and the stratification of worldly music with that of the psychological interior. The original version is an incipient music-drama, with music surging seamlessly without pauses between the acts. Some of that effect was preserved in Alden’s Dallas production by sewing the first two acts together without pause, salvaging the dramatic musical transition from sailors’ chorus to the hum of spinning wheels. Throughout the evening, the orchestra under Emmanuel Villaume was taut and brilliant, forceful but never obscuring the voices. Chorus master Alexander Rom deserves credit for the many crisp, brilliant choruses from both ships’ crews and the village women in each act, as does Alden for his cogent management of these large groups. 

Allen Moyer’s set, featuring a stage ominously tilted, remained essentially static for all three acts. The set’s grey walls and ceiling symbolized the restrictions on the Dutchman and other characters but limited depictions of the seashore or ships’ decks. In the opening scenes with the Norwegian crew, Andrew Stenson brought his warm, strong tenor to his portrayal of the Steersman.

As the Dutchman, Greer Grimsley sounded strong and rich, his steady, clear bass-baritone displaying a variety of colors—mostly dark and somber, befitting his character. His long duet “Wie? Hört’ ich recht?,” with Mark S. Doss as Daland, was charming, moving and well-acted.

In Act II, the ship’s oversized wheel transformed into a large spinning wheel in Daland’s house, where the village women worked in chorus. All motion froze for Senta’s first words, sung by Anja Kampe. We had already seen Senta twice before Act II—at the beginning, staring at the Dutchman’s portrait while refusing a wedding crown offered by her father, and later, unnoticed in the foreground, looking again at the portrait in parallel with the Dutchman’s gaze at Daland’s photo of Senta.

A dramatic change of orchestral color and key (from A major to G minor) prepares Senta’s ballad, in which she relates the story of the Dutchman to the other women. Kampe’s delivery of the sweet melody, with its recognizably Wagnerian shapes and motifs, was smooth and well focused. Jay Hunter Morris’s Erik had the best diction of the cast, and his dream narration was riveting, despite a few pitch problems.

Anne Militello’s lighting in this act was subtle yet effective, drenching portions of the stage in reds, rich undertones and, later, a bright sun streaming in from stage left. Act II ended prematurely, with the Dutchman illuminated in Daland’s doorway—causing Senta to cry out—but before Daland could introduce the pair. That introduction was delayed to opsen Act III, when “Mögst du, mein Kind” further flattered Doss’s voice. The Dutchman’s solo, followed by his duet with Senta, was lovely and robust. The duet featured Grimsley and Kampe’s best singing, beginning with disparate, independent lines that finally intertwine for the final stanzas. Lighting was most dramatic and successful in Act III, coloring the processions and other pre-wedding celebrations.

The haunting voices of the Dutchman’s ghost crew came from speakers near the auditorium ceiling, creating a subtly compelling, otherworldly sound. The ethereal final scene, imagined by Wagner as a redemptive sacrifice leading to a depiction of the Dutchman and Senta transfigured together over the waves, was very earthbound, with the Dutchman ascending a spiral staircase holding aloft Senta’s bridal crown as Erik shot Senta dead. —Stuart Cheney

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