Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer – 1985 Bayreuth (Part 2: I Never Sang for my Father)

I would call this production of Der Fliegende Holländer ur-Regie. It doesn’t look like what we think of as regie, with its detailed period costumes and décor; but there is definitely a firm director’s hand guiding the plot. Harry Kupfer has a strong point of view that does not coincide exactly with Wagner’s original ideas. However, he makes a convincing case for his interpretation.  And he clearly worked closely with the singers on their characters. Each one (including each member of the chorus) has a strong character and an individual take on the action. Kupfer also choreographs many of the actors’ movements to coincide with musical gestures. It’s effective and not obvious or clichéd—I didn’t really notice the synchronization until the second or third viewing. In addition to the versatile set, the lighting enhances the action well.  The three acts are played without a break, per Wagner’s original intention.* 
Lisbeth Balslev has a bright, full, and clear voice. She sings with warmth (and an occasional appropriate chill); and fortunately, she lacks that stereotypical Wagnerian wobble that puts so many people off opera. She is a superb actor, too, and does “neurotic” well. I read recently that she studied nursing before starting her opera career. She apparently drew on her experience working in a psychiatric ward for her gripping portrayal. Senta is hunted, haunted, and obsessed. I just wanted to hug her and comfort her.

Both Simon Estes and Matti Salminen are acclaimed for their interpretive skills, and are convincing as the Dutchman and father Daland.  Estes, an amazing singer/actor, sings an impressive, ominous Dutchman. His voice contrasts nicely with Salminen’s. Graham Clark as the Steuermann has a great, bright, light tenor; Robert Schunk’s Erik is acceptable but not extraordinary to my ears (but I think Erik is kind of a pill anyway.)
So, all of the Dutchman scenes take place in Senta’s mind.  The meeting of Daland and Dutchman in Act 1 is part of her hallucination. In Act 2, Daland brings in a different, real-live cloaked figure, and Senta mistakes him for the Dutchman.  The crowd scene that opens Act 3 (which goes on and on and on) seems to be in her mind as well.

In Act 3, overhearing Erik and Senta, the Dutchman believes she has broken her vow to him and departs (or Senta thinks he departs). Senta makes one last run up her iron stairs and jumps out the window to her death. In a really quick scene change, she is shown outside on the ground with villagers crowded around her, but they all move away from her, hurrying inside.  Only Erik is left with her on stage. Even Daland abandons her. The villagers slam their windows shut. Even in death, Senta remains an outcast.

The Dutchman bids Senta farewell.

This is my first close encounter with Bayreuth and with the Dutchman. I keep coming back to the disc, because I love the singing and I am fascinated with the overall performance.  This is a production that looks “traditional” but goes deep below the surface to tell an engaging tale.  They even have me believing in the Dutchman.
Watch this performance! Better yet, buy it. You can pick it up from amazon for around $15.

*If anyone else is curious about the different versions of this opera, here is a (very) little bit of information.

Read First Post here.

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