Der fliegende Holländer

Richard Bradshaw
Canadian Opera Company Chorus and Orchestra
4 February 2000
Four Seasons Centre Opera House Toronto
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandRaymond Aceto
SentaFrances Ginzer
ErikDavid Rendall
MarySusan Shafer
Der Steuermann DalandsGordon Gietz
Der HolländerRichard Paul Fink

Flying Dutchman hits bad weather

Re-tooled since its 1996 debut, there is much to recommend the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, which opened at the Hummingbird Centre last week.

But then, there was much to recommend it three years ago.

First, there’s Wagner’s thundering score — a favourite amongst the composer’s legion of fans.

Superbly served up by the COC Orchestra, under the direction of Richard Bradshaw, it provides a stunning showcase for some very talented singers — the magnificent bass-baritone Gidon Saks in the title role, soprano Susan Marie Pierson alternating with Frances Ginzer in the role of Senta, tenor Gordon Gietz in the role of the steersman and bass Raymond Aceto as Daland, Senta’s avaricious father.

Throw in the COC Chorus, superb as always, add some glorious lighting effects designed by Anne Militello, factor in the cerebral effect of the story of condemnation and redemption, and you’ve got a memorable time at the opera.

In tuning up the production, however, Bradshaw in his role as general director of the Company, has overlooked the very thing that made the 1996 staging problematic — the strange setting cooked up by director Christopher Alden and designer Allen Moyer.

As conceived by Alden and realized by Moyer, the work takes place on a single set piece — a huge, crate-like structure, angled awkwardly under the Hummingbird proscenium.

While its odd angle is an effective tool during the storm scenes, the crate — relieved, but only barely, by disappearing doors and windows, a spiral staircase and a huge wheel — ceases to serve the production and overwhelms it, eventually becoming the production in some strange way instead.

In the thrall of a perspective thus forced, Alden’s vision becomes unrelenting, as he combines disparate elements — an homage to Edvard Munch’s The Scream, a pinch of Mary Pickford, a touch of KISS, even a dab or two of Christian iconography — in an almost universally drab pastiche.

Much has been made of the fact that the concentration camp garb has been lost along the way from the 1996 staging to the current one.

What’s replaced it, however, is pretty dull, stolid stuff, too.

Alden and Moyer have created a world of unspeakable drabness relieved only by flashes of a bizarre, electric green not found in nature outside of Irish pubs and dank rain forests.

Ultimately, it’s not the monochromatic nature of the show that is distressing, however, so much as its unrelenting nature — a single visual note struck over and over and over again.

To be certain, Wagner was master of the Sturm und Drang of the German psyche (or storm and struggle, if you will). But this is all Sturm. It gives no clear idea of what fair weather is like or for what anyone might be struggling.

As entertainment, it’s hopeless.

JOHN COULBOURN | January 25, 2000

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 333 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast (CBC)
A production by Christopher Alden (1996)