Flying Dutchman Revival Continues to Impress

SwitzerlandSwitzerland Wagner: The Flying Dutchman, Soloists, Chorus of the Zurich Opera, Philharmonia Zurich, conductor: Constantin Trinks, Zurich Opera, Zurich. 14.3.14 (JR)

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Senta: Anja Kampe
Mary: Judit Kutasi
Dutchman: John Lundgren
Daland: Matti Salminen
Erik: Marko Jentzsch
Helmsman: Michael Laurenz
Daland‘s servant: Nelson Egede

Director: Andreas Homoki
Sets: Wolfgang Gussmann
Costumes: Wolfgang Gussmann and Susana Mendoza
Lighting: Franck Evin
Chorus: Jürg Hämmerli

This revival was anticipated for Juha Uusitalo as the Dutchman. Uusitalo has suffered very serious illness over the years but appeared to have made somewhat of a recovery. Sadly health concerns forced him to bow out of this production and in stepped another seasoned Scandinavian-Dutchman, a Swede to be exact, John Lundgren. Lundgren has sung the role in Copenhagen and in Las Palmas.

Andreas Homoki’s innovative and interesting production is now shared by two major opera houses, La Scala and Oslo Opera, a sign of the quality of this innovative production and a sign, I suspect, of the financial times.  Homoki has set the opera in the offices of a 1920s Hanseatic League shipping office; there is no sign of either ship (except – suddenly – in a painting: read on). The sailors are office clerks; the spinning ladies in Act II are secretaries, the spinning wheels having amusingly turned into ancient typewriters. Centre stage is a huge panelled revolving tower which Homoki uses to change the scene and to assist clever optical illusions: the Dutchman appears and disappears through concealed doors, at one point a “double” is used so the Dutchman moves off to the right and immediately re-enters on the left. The outer walls expand and contract disarmingly during the music.  On the wall an office clock either stands still or hurtles round at speed; a large map of the lower half of Africa shows some of its ports: in Act III this catches fire (the plunder of the colonies). In Act II Daland’s house has a painting of the rough sea on the wall which, at the appropriate moment, comes to life depicting the approaching Dutchman’s ship.

The production remains full of bustle; the “sailors” lurch theatrically from side to side in the storm. Often the production borders on the comic: Jonathan Miller’s brilliant production of “The Mikado” for English National Opera sprang to mind on a number of occasions. Costumes are also throughout in monochrome; the Dutchman looks incongruous in a shaggy black coat and top hat sprouting coloured feathers.

Vocal honours were even between the Dutchman and Senta. Lundgren was not put in the shade by memories of Bryn Terfel’s wonderful interpretation on this stage not so long ago, though Lundgren’s strong voice lacks the Welshman’s beauty of tone.  His diction was surprisingly less clear than Terfel’s.  Anja Kampe sang her heart out, a great dramatic portrayal; there was vocal unsteadiness only really once when she has to tackle an awkward high descending scale. It remains unfortunate that she has to tear most of her clothes off when singing of her obsession with the legend of the Dutchman; she remains in her slip for the rest of the opera, only donning a light grey coat as the opera progresses. For my mind, she also has to run and flap around the stage rather a lot, in her search of her elusive lover.

Christof Fischesser was to have sung the role of Daland but an announcer told us that he had cancelled due to illness, at short notice. His name was still in the printed programme and on the electronic billboards round the opera house. Luckily, who should just happen to be in town but the Wagnerian stalwart, Matti Salminen, who sang the role at the première some 15 months ago.  Some quick work by the opera house tailors and he was on stage. He was croaky at first but soon his voice cleared and he looked and sounded relaxed; a luxury of an understudy.  Tenor Marko Jentzsch as Erik had been indisposed at last season’s première so it was good to now hear his firm, clear impressive voice.  Michael Laurenz was the Helmsman, a fine young singer (and actor). Judit Kutasi was a serviceable Mary.

The other newcomer to this revival was Constantin Trinks, a young German conductor, who was in charge in Darmstadt for some years and has been very successful at the Semperoper in Dresden. His overture was vigorous, he never lacked for volume and the orchestra played well for him, particularly the horn section.

The production has a nice twist at the end. Erik, Senta’s erstwhile lover, is a huntsman, dressed in green hunting garb and complete with shotgun. When the Dutchman disappears back to his accursed roaming of the seas, in the tussle that ensues, Senta – rather than throwing herself off a cliff – grabs Erik’s gun and shoots herself. The libretto indicates that the Dutchman and Senta re-appear reunited, in transfigured form, but in this production there is no happy ending for anyone.

John Rhodes

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