Flying Dutchman suffers staging ills
Wagner’s score, however, is commanding
Yo-ho-ho-yo-ho-ho-ho: Such a great opera, The Flying Dutchman. And such a pretentious staging Saturday in Place des Arts. If your priority as an operagoer is to hear Wagner’s score, by all means invest in one of the repeat performances. Maybe leave the opera glasses at home.
To be fair, there are some diverting visuals in this Canadian Opera Company production, reworked by the Opéra de Montréal.
But the main achievement is musical.
Tearing a page from the Kent Nagano playbook, the Montreal company has hired a squad of German principals, all equal to the roles. Maida Hundeling applied a fierce dramatic soprano sound to the role of Senta, compensating for the stiff blocking imposed on her by the artistic team. Tenor Endrik Wottrich as Erik was sturdy of tone and a compelling actor. Why not settle for this honest, rugged hunter rather than chase a sickly sea-captain?
It was, of course, the decision of the American revisionist director Christopher Alden (here seconded by Marilyn Gronsdal) to make a weakling of the title character, constantly gripping his overcoat at the collar as if he might catch a cold from those nasty sea breezes. Bass-baritone Thomas Gazheli did what he could under the circumstances, crooning in his monologue, but opening up vocally at the end. The avaricious Captain Daland had no such “interpretation” to project so it was not surprising that bass Reinhard Hagen made a strong impression. The Canadian tenor Kurt Lehmann was lyrical as the Helmsman, who is asked in this production to do much more than the libretto requires.
To list all the tedious divergences from what Wagner asked for would require a full-page feature. Costuming was vaguely early-20th century, although I suppose the Dutchman’s jailbird striped pyjamas could be taken as timeless. Sailors turned up at the beginning of Act 3 in formal black attire, including armbands, enabling the mandatory gratuitous reference to Nazism. Or was the fascism here Irish, the predominant colour being green?
Alienation is the ubertheme in this production, so when the Dutchman makes his first appearance in Act 2, it is with his back to Senta and the audience. Like Senta, who carries around a EdvardMunch-like portrait of the Dutchman, he stares at an image, this one held at arm’s length. Thought-provoking, I am sure.
The grossest violation is saved for the end. Perhaps I should observe spoiler protocol here, although it is amusing that the OdM itself hinted at the outcome by announcing that a gunshot would be heard in the course of the show.
The set is a harshly lit shoebox on a tilt. A giant wheel, looking like something from an industrial-age factory, serves as the helm and a spiral staircase accommodates the Dutchman’s apotheosis. Striking enough on its own terms, it would work nicely as the set for something expressionistic from the 1920s.
Its only benefit in this presentation was as an acoustic amphitheatre for the voices, including those of the robust OdM Chorus. The Orchestre Métropolitain was also on form, at least after warming up in the overture. KeriLynn Wilson, a Canadian conductor, led the score with an unerring sense of overall proportion and bar-to-bar drama.
Bass-baritone Thomas Gazheli crooned in his monologue, but opened up vocally at the end.