Der fliegende Holländer

Valery Gergiev
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
16 Dezember 2000
Metropolitan Opera New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandJan-Hendrik Rootering
SentaNina Stemme
ErikRoland Wagenführer
MaryJill Grove
Der Steuermann DalandsMatthew Polenzani
Der HolländerJames Morris
New York Times

Chilling Tale Of Dutchman Has a Mythic, Modern Edge

The Metropolitan Opera’s powerful 1989 production of Wagner’s ”Fliegende Hollander” was mounted for the bass James Morris, whose portrayal of the title role was one of the finest achievements of his great career. The production returned to the Met on Friday night with Mr. Morris again as the Flying Dutchman, the cursed sea captain condemned to roam the ocean forever, allowed only once every seven years to dock his vessel and search for a woman whose true love can release him.

Though the production lacked some of the focus it had when last at the Met during the 1993-94 season, and though Mr. Morris’s voice is sounding weather-beaten these days, this was still a chilling evening of musical drama. The conductor Valery Gergiev, conducting his first Wagner opera at the Met, made news with his bracing account of the score.

The production, by August Everding, who died last year, with sets by Hans Schavernoch, shows that an opera can be staged with stark, contemporary imagery yet evoke the setting of the story. When the curtain goes up, through the misty aftermath of a violent storm we see the ice-encrusted ship of Daland, a Norwegian sea captain who has sought temporary refuge in a coastal haven just miles from the town where he lives. Looming over the ship are steep, snow-covered cliffs. We could be watching a traditional staging of the opera.

Then eerie searchlights from above scan the deck of the ship. The lights dim, the music swells, and out of nowhere the dreadful hulk of the Dutchman’s vessel appears. With its steel sides, oddly geometric shape and dangling reddish-orange anchor, the ship looks like some terrifyingly huge oil tanker. A gangplank lowers from above yet doesn’t quite touch the stage floor. And down this dangerously suspended staircase the Dutchman heavily treads. It’s a powerfully mythic and modern image.

Later, in Act II, in Daland’s coastal hometown, women sit together spinning as they sing Wagner’s beguiling ”Spinning Chorus.” Typically, it’s a genial, welcome break from the tension. In this production the woman labor in a constricted space that looks like a factory, with low-hung industrial lights and windows frosted with ice. Operating sewing machines, they repair enormous swaths of sails for the seamen.

The production is filled with such unforgettable images. That said, the lighting by Gil Wechsler was perhaps not quite right for this first performance. The last time out, the cloudy scrims that are used in Acts I and III did not seem so murky and noticeable.

Wagner wrote that the singer portraying the Dutchman should convey emotion through a ”terrible repose.” Mr. Morris embodies this quality in every glance and step. Tall, square-shouldered and bent over with the exhaustion of his curse, he is a hulking and pitiable figure. Next year Mr. Morris will celebrate the 30th anniversary of his Met debut, and his voice is showing signs of wear, especially in his patchy mid-range. Interestingly, in high-lying climactic phrases the years vanish and that famously powerful bass voice once again resounds in the hall. For all the vocal shortcomings, Mr. Morris is still at an artistic high point and brings deep dramatic insight and musical intelligence to every phrase.

Nina Stemme, a Swedish soprano, made her Met debut as Daland’s daughter, Senta, who yearns to be the woman whose love can redeem the Dutchman. Though Ms. Stemme took some time to warm up, once she had, she sang with a cool, radiant and often penetrating sound. Some edgy tones suggested that perhaps Ms. Stemme was forcing her voice beyond its resources. But she is a lovely and compelling actress and an engaging singer. The audience gave her a rousing ovation.

Roland Wagenfuhrer, a German tenor, also made his Met debut as Erik, Senta’s goofy young suitor. It is hard to stand out in this unrewarding role, and indeed, Mr. Wagenfuhrer made little impression. His tone is husky, but his voice is not. Here was Mozart’s Tamino trying to be a Wagner tenor. Mr. Wagenfuhrer will have a better chance to show what he is capable of later this month when he sings two performances as Florestan in ”Fidelio.”

The formidable bass Jan-Hendrik Rootering was a vocally strong and believably well-meaning Daland. The fine young tenor Matthew Polenzani was an appropriately exuberant Steersman. The mezzo-soprano Jill Grove was sympathetic as a wheelchair-bound Mary, who supervises the spinning women.

Following the Met’s practice, Mr. Gergiev conducted the original version of the opera, in which the three acts flow together without break. While James Levine has accomplished great things with the Met Orchestra by working in a collegial manner over long periods, Mr. Gergiev is the type of conductor who likes to come in and shake things up. Though not as technically adroit as Mr. Levine, he turns that difference to a kind of advantage, keeping the orchestra nervously alert. The playing was not the most solid, but it was continually exciting and often inspired. Mr. Gergiev impressed not just in the tumultuous episodes but also in his elegant shaping of the gracefully Italianate music that runs through this early Wagner work.

By ANTHONY TOMMASINI | November 27, 2000

Sergio de Silva

Der Fliegende Hollander, November 28th, 2000

I had high hopes for this performance and was disappointed. The production is very good for the first Act where the appearance of the Dutchman’s ship is very well handled but to ask the singer to sing the brilliant monologue “Der frist is um” standing on a hanging staircase, high above the ground is ridiculous ! At adds nothing to the drama, in fact it spoils it, because I can bet Morris or any other singer would be tense to be singing in such conditions. The second Act is horrible, the scene is just ugly and to have the seamstress using sewing machines and lots of fabric around does not make for drama ! The third Act is very good on the other hand, the appearance of the Dutchman crew is very well handled.

And then I thought well the singing will come to rescue, was I wrong !

Morris had a very weak first act, his monologue was sung without any dynamics and the voice lacked power, projection and intensity of tone. It seems to me he does not identify with the role, because I’ve seen him before in other roles (Fillipe, the villains in Contes d’Hoffmann) and I know he is a good actor and sensitive singer but he simply sang the role without any commitment. He was only good in the beginning of the duet in Act 2 where he used pianissimos and showed some interest in the part. But again, I think he lacks the proper tone and power in his voice to make a good Dutchman.

Nina Stemme was replacing Sharon Sweet (she is out due to illness rumour says). She has sung Senta before and sings the role well technically but emotionally she displayed nothing. The ballad in Act 2 had no introspection (she did not differantiate between the different “Oh ho, Oh hos” where she could have alternated between piano and forte) and elsewhere it was the same. I also think she lacks the necessary power in her voice for the role, in Act 3 any Senta has to really let the voice fly to the wings and I heard none of that (I saw a very good Senta, Sabine Hass, that has sadly passed away recently and she had all the qualities Stemme is lacking).

Roland Wagenführer is debuting at the MET in this role. He is a good Erik and was able to sang the role well which in itself is a feat already! I’d like to hear him in a major role, an interesting singer let’s see.

Jan-Hendrik Rootering was a routine Daland. He sang well and knows the role but Gergiev made him sweat in the first Act with his fast speed !

Matthew Polenzani was a good steuermann.

Valery Gergiev was a major disappointment to me. He started the prelude in a fury, going very fast and had trouble keeping the orchestra at an acceptable level for the singers and sometimes drowned them. His must be one of the fastest Dutchman’s conducting so far ! I saw none of the poetry and lyricism required for the piece. The orchestra was good and the male chorus superb, the female chorus though had a lot of problems with tone consistency in the Ballad (second act), specially in the high notes where you could hear twenty different high notes spreading at the top.

In sum, a disappointing evening at the MET. It is difficult to hear good Wagner these days anyway.

User Rating
Media Type/Label
En Larmes, TOL, PO
Technical Specifications
256 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 260 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by August Everding (1989)