Dresden’s Der Fliegende Holländer as Senta’s Nightmare

GermanyGermany Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer, Staatskapelle and Staatsoper Dresden, Constantin Trinks (conductor), Semperoper Dresden, 15.6.2013 (JMI)

New Production Semperoper Dresden:
Direction: Florentine Klepper
Sets: Martina Segna
Costumes: Anna Sofie Tuma
Lighting: Bernd Purkrabek

Holländer: Markus Marquardt
Senta: Marjorie Owens
Daland: Georg Zeppenfeld
Erik: Will Hartmann
Frau Mary: Tichina Vaughn
Steuermann: Simeon Esper

4311 Holländer Mar­jo­rie Owens (Senta), Damen und Her­ren des Säch­si­schen Staats­opern­chors Dres­den, Kom­par­se­rie © Matthias Creutziger
Holländer: Mar­jo­rie Owens (Senta), Damen und Her­ren des
Säch­si­schen Staats­opern­chors Dres­den, Kom­par­se­rie
© Matthias Creutziger


It has been six years since my last visit to Dresden, but I remember it as if it were only a month ago. At that time I attended a festival dedicated to Richard Strauss, where one could see 10 of his operas in 10 days. Unfortunately, that experience has not been repeated, and I must confess that I miss it.

Adding to its many attractions, Dresden now has Christian Thielemann as musical director, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of seeing him conduct Der Rosenkavalier on 16 June.

Today saw the opening of a new production of Der Fliegende Holländer, an opera that premiered here exactly 170 years ago. The stage production is by German director Florentine Klepper, who made her debut in Dresden with L’Incoronazione di Poppea a couple of years ago.

This Wagner opera gives directors the freedom to offer their own takes on the plot: the legend of the Flying Dutchman is open to many interpretations and, even more so, the character of Senta.  Florentine Klepper staged the opera as a dream or rather a nightmare of Senta’s, who is marked by her childhood experiences and lives in a macho environment where women are deemed fit only to take care of the house and have children. Senta’s nightmares and childhood traumas make sense, but often they have little to do with what the libretto and music are saying.

After the overture, the music pauses, and we attend a burial on a cliff which later appears to have been Daland’s. Senta comes on stage accompanied by the child Senta in a split of personality and memories. During the first act the adult Senta is always on top of the cliff overlooking the sea, while the child Senta is abused by Norwegian sailors who are drinking in a bar that happens to exist on the cliff. The same stage serves for the second act, with a wall at the bottom cutting off the view of the sea. The spinners are a group of heavily pregnant women, all exactly alike. They pass through a big bed where they are helped by Frau Mary to give birth to their children; meanwhile Senta dreams of the Dutchman as a means of escape. In the third act we are back on the cliff and we see Senta’s new nightmare: her father is dead and the sailors are celebrating her wedding to Erik.

This is one of those productions that require a thorough explanation from the stage director. The program had a few pages written by Florentine Klepper, but my German is not proficient enough to follow her thinking.

Constantin Trinks is one of the young conductors who is more appreciated in Germany. I had the opportunity to see him conducting Der Rosenkavalier a couple of years ago in Munich, and my impression then was not very different from today’s. He seems to me a reliable conductor and at times he is very bright, but he is somewhat irregular in his reading. I found his overture superficial and excessively loud; the volume was more moderate during the first act. I have to say that the second part of the opera was much better, more interesting by far. The orchestra was a real pleasure, and even more so in this beautiful theater.

Dresden Opera does not usually offer big star names, but it has a group of excellent singers in the company. They can always be counted on in the operas they perform, which was true again on this occasion.

Markus Marquardt has been singing in Dresden for many years now, and his performances are always reliable. His Holländer was sonorous and well sung, and he was convincing both as singer and actor.

American soprano Marjorie Owens is one of the great stars in Dresden, but she is little known by audiences outside this city. Senta is not an easy role, but Owens solved all the difficulties with ease and a good dose of emotion. Her voice is attractive, very smooth, powerful without excess, and capable of reaching the high notes. Undoubtedly, she was the best in the cast. She’s a soprano who could succeed in any opera house in the world.

Georg Zeppenfeld as Daland was as usual a dependable interpreter. He is not an outstanding artist, but he is always good.

The part of Erik is the most bel canto role that Wagner wrote, and it is full of difficulties: few tenors succeed in the character. Will Hartmann was good in the role and, although he had difficulties, he sang all the notes, which is not easy by any means.

American mezzo soprano Tichina Vaughn was exceptional in the character of Mary. Simeon Esper’s voice was well-suited to his role, but rather tight at the top.

The Semperoper was almost sold out. The audience reacted warmly to the artists, with loud cheers for both Markus Marquardt and Marjorie Owens. The creative team, however, was received with boos, but they were not excessive. At their final bow,  the boos were more widespread and intense.

José Mª. Irurzun