An Intriguing and Imaginative Flying Dutchman at the Berlin Staatsoper

GermanyGermany Wagner, Der Fliegende Holländer: Staatskapelle Berlin and Staatsopernchor, Markus Poschner (conductor), Schiller Theater, Berlin, 16.11.2015. (JMI)

Berlin Staatsoper’s Der Fliegende Holländer (c) Matthias Baus

Wagner, Der Fliegende Holländer

Production: Basel Theatre

Direction: Philipp Stölzl
Sets: Philipp Stölzl and Conrad Moritz Reinhardt
Costumes: Ursula Kudrna
Lighting: Hermann Münzer and Olaf Freese


Holländer: Michael Volle
Senta: Camilla Nylund
Daland: Peter Rose
Erik: Andreas Schager
Steuermann: Joel Prieto
Frau Mary: Anja Schlosser

I must start by saying that this is a rather strange production. It’s not the first time The Flying Dutchman has been envisioned as a dream by Senta, but here dreams and reality blend in a curious and even amazing story. It premiered in Basel six years ago and has been successful there. The Berlin Staatsoper decided to stage it, and their first performance was just over two years ago. Apparently, it rated the unusual compliment of not being booed at the premiere, as often happens in Berlin with new productions.

Philipp Stölzl does not alter the libretto, at least literally, but his ideas are very elaborate. The action takes place in the library of Daland’s mansion, where a very young Senta appears during the overture searching for the book about her obsession, the Flying Dutchman. At the rear of the room is a huge painting of sea storms, which opens up as the young Senta is reading to serve as a second stage: the Daland and Dutchman encounter occurs only in Senta’s mind.

The chorus of spinners in Act II becomes a chorus of Daland’s maids, with the real Senta singing the ballad. Surprisingly, Daland makes his entrance accompanied not by the Dutchman but by Senta’s husband-to-be. The couple is left alone, and Senta continues with her dreams; the big picture at the back reopens, revealing the Dutchman with the young Senta, played by an actress. There are therefore two levels of action, the real one with the singer Senta and her fiancé, and the unreal in the upper stage. The Senta/Dutchman duet here did not really work without physical contact between the two singers.

In Act III, we attend Senta’s wedding party, where the guests are somewhat drunk and the newlyweds fall asleep. The calls from the Norwegian to the Dutch to wake them are here addressed to Senta and her husband. Senta wakes up, but returns to her dreams in which the Dutch crew comes out of the ship and kills the wedding guests with the help of Senta herself. It all ends with the Dutchman’s appearance in the painting, accompanied by the other Senta. The real Senta has totally lost her mind and cuts her jugular. The Dutchman finishes the opera in the embrace of the “unreal” Senta.

The least convincing aspect of this production was actually the musical part. Right from the opening, Markus Poschner, who conducts frequently in Bremen and at the Berlin Komische Oper, decided to accent the decibels. This continued throughout the performance. Luckily, he didn’t cover the singers greatly because it was a closed stage, even at the ceiling, which facilitated the projection of voices. Both the orchestra and the chorus gave fine performances.

The Dutchman was played by Michael Volle, undoubtedly one of the best performers today, who has a voice well-suited to the character. He performance was very reliable, but the conductor’s sound barrier did not allow Mr. Volle many opportunities to show nuances. He gave the impression of being tired in the last act, which is not surprising given the circumstances.

Camilla Nylund was a convincing Senta on stage, more so than in vocal terms, although she improved in the last act. Her voice has a certain appeal, but there were times when she did not reach the audience easily, which no doubt had to do with the orchestral volume.

British bass Peter Rose was a good Daland with a strong voice. Erik was played by Andreas Schager, a more important tenor than usual in this role. He was very powerful and faultlessly solved the difficulties of his Act III arioso.

It was a surprise to have tenor Joel Prieto in the supporting role of the Helmsman. He was first-rate, as could be expected. Frau Mary was mezzo soprano Anja Schlosser, who was adequate.

José M. Irurzun

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