Richard, Barbara, Mimmi, Ric, Grace, and I saw *Der Fliegende Holländer* at the Met on 3/6/20. It’s a new production of what’s seen as the first of Wagner’s ten major operas (we slide past his first two operas, *Die Feen* and *Rienzi*). I saw it in Chicago in 2001, it was my only previous experience with the opera. I’ve since become a rabid Wagner fan, so it was fulfilling to revisit this early work.
Wagner was still figuring it out, still finding his voice. For example, the tenor lead has an aria late in the opera that sounds like Verdi, it’s very odd. And you get the sense that Wagner is trying to make an opera that behaves like an opera, with arias, ensembles, and a straightforward narrative, but still do it on his terms. His next opera, *Tannhäuser,* is straight on, full tilt boogie Wagner, no references and no apologies. This opera has a strange dichotomy - - there are scenes that are boring and go on too long, but then when it’s exciting, it’s incredibly exciting, like edge-of-your-seat exciting.
The production was directed by François Girard, who did the new production of *Parsifal* we saw in 2013. *Parsifal* was more successful, but this was very well done. He makes arresting images and has a fascinating way of creating a community onstage.
This is the story: Senta is a young woman on the coast of Norway in the 19th century. Her father is the captain of a ship - - the ship is coming back home, but they’re driven off course by a storm. The crew sees a spooky ship off in the distance, which is The Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship captained by The Flying Dutchman (it’s unclear where he named the ship after himself or the other way around). He was cursed many years ago to sail the seas incessantly, only allowed to go on land every seven years. His only salvation is to win the love of a woman.
This is where Senta comes in. She has a fixation on the myth of The Flying Dutchman. She sings a ballad, telling his story. She feels that it’s her duty to find him, love him, and save him. Senta’s father meets The Dutchman and brings him home for a warm, home-cooked meal. The Dutchman and Senta glare at each other, feeling their destiny, a sort of German <<folie à deux.>> They overcome a few obstacles and end up together in the end. In most productions Senta throws herself into the sea, to save The Dutchman, but in this production they end up together and sort of dematerialize into another realm. Why not.
Girard got things off to a rip-roaring good start with the overture. He put a dancer double of Senta onstage and had her emoting all through the overture. Peter Flaherty did the video projections, the best I’ve seen at the Met. He projected waves, rain, and wind onto the scrim, surrounding Senta, and later, a watery double of The Flying Dutchman (the ship). The overture made me think of the opening credits to a cheesy English Hammer horror film from the 70s. It's not hard to imagine Hammer making a horror movie of *The Flying Dutchman* with Vincent Price and Barbara Steele (Steele would, of course, be given a blonde wig, but still have plenty of eye liner).
The video projections at the very end were breathtaking - - he projected a melting, dripping, waxy effect onto the chorus, it was like something out of an Hieronymus Bosch painting.
The Dutchman was supposed to have been played by the great Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel, who I’ve heard many times and always loved. This was to have been his first performance at the Met in eight years, but he had to withdraw due to an injury. The Met got Russian baritone Evgeny Nikitin to take over, and he was very good. He has a strong voice and a brooding presence (Barbara does a great impression of his sullen, round-shouldered posture). He lacked a little extra something, maybe he didn’t seem like a natural Wagner singer to me.
Anja Kampe, on the other hand, as Senta, was the real deal, a genuine Wagner singer, the ideal mixture of warmth, lyricism, incisive delivery of the text, stamina, and major heft in the climaxes. This is her first role at the Met and I look forward to hearing her again. A couple of her high notes got away from her, but I don’t fault her for that, she was a joy to hear. Here she is singing a snippet from her ballad, from a production in Zurich:
There are two tenor roles, and Ric put it perfectly by calling it “luxury casting.” David Portillo played the juicy small role of the steersman on Senta’s father’s ship. He has a sweet, lovely voice, he really knew how to deliver the tenderness in his singing. Sergey Skorokhodov was Erik, Senta’s conventional boyfriend. Girard made the interesting choice of portraying Erik as an obsessive weirdo. I think this made Senta’s fixation on The Dutchman seem more plausible. Skorokhodov has a thrilling slice to his voice and a fearless way of flinging it out there. Another singer I’d like to hear again.
Valery Gergiev did a glorious job of bringing out all the drama in the score. Clearly the Met Orchestra knows their way around Wagner.