Austria Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer, Wiener Staatsoper Orchestra and Chorus, Graeme Jenkins (conductor), Vienna Staatsoper, 12.9.2014 (JMI)
Holländer: Bryn Terfel
Senta: Ricarda Merbeth
Daland: Peter Rose
Erik: Norbert Ernst
Mary: Carol Wilson
Steuermann: Thomas Ebenstein
Production: Wiener Staatsoper
Director: Christine Mielitz
Sets and Costumes: Stefan Mayer
Der Fliegende Holländer was chosen to open this year’s opera season in Vienna. The decision was based on the fact that Bryn Terfel had never sung the part of the Dutchman in Vienna; and on the presence on the podium of Yannick Nezet-Seguin. He did not, however, conduct the last performance of the opera, which was the one that I attended.
The staging by Christine Mielitz had its premiere in 2003, and has been performed 54 times in the house. It all seems rather traditional at first glance, but it contains numerous personal touches by Ms. Mielitz, who has moved the action to the last century. Senta appears to take refuge in her dreams in order to escape the reality that surrounds her: a capitalist family avid for wealth. In her house one sees portraits of Marx and Engels, but none of the Dutchman who is just the product of Senta’s imagination. She does not escape this life by jumping into the sea, but rather by immolating herself in the fire like Brünnhilde. There are other “contributions” from Ms. Mielitz: for example, at the end of the Norwegians’ party we witness a group copulating on stage (albeit simulated).
The set is one basic stage with elements added for the different scenes. The most successful is the appearance of the hulls of both ships in Act I. The costumes are attractive for the Norwegians, while the Dutch are black spectra. Light also plays its role: the Norwegians’ scenes are in daylight, while the Dutch are always in darkness. All in all, it is a successful work apart from superfluous details.
As I mentioned, Yannick Nezet-Seguin could only conduct the first three performances, and Graeme Jenskins replaced him for the final show. The reviews were unanimously positive for Nezet-Seguin, and I’m afraid we may have lost out with the change. Graeme Jenkins’ conducting seemed to me good overall though short of emotion in some key moments, especially in the wonderful duo of Senta and the Dutchman in Act II. The orchestra and chorus were excellent, a feast for the ear.
Bryn Terfel as the Dutchman proved that he is a great artist and a great singer. He exhibited power and strength when needed, and spectacular vocal nuances at many other moments. His monologue in the first act was faultless and worthy of the best current interpreter of the character. For this reviewer, his Wotan and his Dutchman are today’s absolute references.
Ricarda Merbeth was the solid Senta well-known to all opera lovers. This soprano does not enjoy the popularity of some of her colleagues, but she is one of the safest choices in this repertoire. I’ve never been disappointed with her, and this performance was no exception. She offered a very fine Senta, always unreserved in the service of the role.
The character of Erik is not as important as Senta or the Dutchman, but his score is so fraught with difficulties that the big names never sing it. No wonder that this character is usually badly served on stage, but not on this occasion. Norbert Ernst was superb, and brilliantly solved the difficulties of the last act. Although his voice is not marvelous, it satisfies.
British bass Peter Rose was a real treat in the part of Daland and a luxury in the role.
The secondary characters were well covered. Carol Wilson as Frau Mary and Thomas Ebenstein as Helmsman were both excellent.
The Staatsoper was fully sold out. The audience gave a triumphant reception to the singers, especially to Bryn Terfel and Ricarda Merbeth.
José Mª Irurzun