Der fliegende Holländer

Bruno Weil
Prager Kammerchor, WDR Rundfunkchor Köln
Cappella Coloniensis
13-15 June 2004
Alfred Krupp Saal, Philharmonie Essen
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Donald (Daland)Franz-Josef Selig
SentaAstrid Weber
Georg (Erik)Jörg Dürmüller
MarySimone Schröder
Der Steuermann DalandsKobie van Rensburg
Der HolländerTerje Stensvold
Corliss Phillabaum

This recording is also based on the manuscript of the score as it was completed in Paris in 1842 without any of Wagner’s subsequent revisions, and it is played on instruments reproducing the orchestral forces of the time of composition. Senta’s ballad is sung in the original key, rather than a full tone lower, a change which Wagner allowed because his original Senta could not manage the higher key, and the revised endings to the overture and to Act 3, are not used. The softer volume produced by the period instruments also has allowed for the performance to cast somewhat lighter voices in some roles. Conductor Bruno Weil also takes quick tempos throughout the performance, which clocks in a full half-hour shorter than rival recordings by such conductors as Otto Klemperer and James Levine. Only Marc Minkowski (1841 version, period instruments) and Ferenc Fricsay (standard version, modern instruments) match this timing.

The shorter timing and the absence of intermissions explains how Wagner could originally think of the opera as a work that could be staged as a curtain-raiser to a ballet; modern performances with intermissions can run three hours or more. The sound of the orchestra, especially the winds and brass–is brighter, more transparent and more aggressive than we are accustomed, partly because of the different sound of the instruments and also because Wagner later toned down the original orchestration. Daniel Barenboim’s modern recording which casts Senta with a true Wagnerian soprano (Jane Eaglen) asks too much of her, whereas in the period performances and the 1961 Bayreuth production (our-of-print) which cast lighter, higher voices in the role, the ballad gains an extra measure of excitement.

The brighter orchestral sound, the lighter voices and the quick tempos in Bruno Weil’s performance also reveal the opera more clearly as belonging to the age of Weber and Marschner and even the Italian bel canto era. The ornamental vocal passages seem more effective when sung without a struggle and such flowing melodies as the scenes with Daland no longer seem to belong in a different world than the rest of the score..

Although Weil’s performance derives from live concert performances and makes no use of the theatrical possibilities of stereo, it generates considerable excitement and dramatic force. Astrid Weber as Senta and Jörg Dürmüller as Erik bring both vocal beauty and dramatic involvement to their roles and Franz-Josef Selig is a delightfully materialistic Daland. Terja Stensvold as The Dutchman sings with considerable beauty of tone and fine legato, though he is somewhat inexpressive with the text and his German is inconsistent at times. The fine orchestra and chorus have been given bright, transparent recorded sound and are balanced well with the soloists.

Talk about sailing under false colours!This purports to be the first recordingof Wagner’s Flying Dutchman in its‘original Paris version’. But there’s nosuch thing. What there is is a scorethat Wagner began in Paris in 1841and premiered in Dresden in 1843but continually revised before andafter that date. Musically, what we gethere is effectively the 1843 Dresdenversion but with Senta’s ballad in theoriginal higher key and with the nowcustomarycuts imposed to reduce thework to the one-act form that Wagnerinitially conceived but never actuallycomposed. The twist is that, in this‘version’, the opera is set in Scotland– like the Heine tale that inspired it– rather than the familiar Norway towhich Wagner relocated it shortlybefore its premiere. But since thismerely involves two name-changesin the cast and just two other wordchangesin the text itself, it’s reallyneither here nor there.Whatever the merits (or otherwise)of the edition, this is an excitinglyconducted and finely detailed liveconcert recording of the composer’sbreakthrough work, brilliantly playedon period instruments (albeit atmodern pitch), with natural hornsand trumpets evocatively deployedalongside their valved cousins todistinguish the Dutchman’s elementalspirit world from modern mundanereality, and deliciously ripplingwoodwind to stir the sails and rigging.It’s only a pity the opportunitywasn’t in fact taken to match thismellower, more delicate soundscapewith consistently lighter, Weber-typevoices. Despite her name, AstridWeber as Senta has an unashamedlyheavyweight Wagnerian voice. Yet,on her own terms, after an initiallysqually, ill-pitched assault on herballad, she also boasts a reckless daringthat increasingly pays dividends –unlike Terje Stensvold, her (ironicallyNorwegian) Dutchman, who, despitehis impressively well-focused toneand clear diction, ultimately lacks thecharacter’s essential air of mystery andfascination.
Mark Pappenheim

This recording is of Wagner’s first version of Dutchman, the version that was finished in Paris in 1841 in which the action is set in Scotland and some of the characters are differently named (Erik is Georg; Daland is Donald). The overture and final moments do not include the “redemption” music, and at various points throughout the score there are bits of orchestration and word-setting that are different. But most urgently, the performances in Cologne from June, 2004, from which this recording was put together, used period instruments, so the textures as we know them are very different indeed. Both valved and natural trumpets and horns are used, and the effect is fascinating. It’s a pity the performance isn’t very good.

Conductor Bruno Weil has no particular point of view; he makes this relatively clear in a comment in the accompanying booklet when he says, with regard to his (quick) tempos, that “the concept of ‘interpretation’” did not exist in the 19th century. This is nonsense–were personality, critical intelligence, and free will invented decades later? Tell that to Giuditta Pasta, let alone Verdi.

At any rate, what we get is a group of mostly competent singers and players who are presenting a document to us–with an occasional emotive moment slipping by. Terje Stensvold’s Dutchman is matter-of-fact. His lightish voice is not the problem–since everything here is slimmed down, a great Mozartian could be singing the part–but he whizzes through “Die Frist ist um”, seems totally disengaged in his meeting with Senta in Act 2, and shows no menace or pain near the opera’s close. Astrid Weber, judging by her Senta, is a singer to forget: her tone is hard and ugly above the staff, acceptable for three-or-so notes below it, and almost non-existent at the bottom. Tenor Jörg Dürmüller sings Georg/Erik with some passion, but he’s soon forgotten, and the fine Handelian Kobie van Rensburg turns in a rare poor performance as the Steersman. Best are Franz-Josef Selig as Daland/Donald, who seems to “get” the character’s dual nature despite not delving very deeply, and Simone Schröder’s Mary, which is well sung. The orchestra plays well. This is a wash-out; an important example poorly presented.

Robert Levine

De petites vagues, mais peu de tempêtes… Voici un enregistrement du Vaisseau qui tient plus de la curiosité musicologique que de la vérité dramatique du chef-d’œuvre de jeunesse de Wagner. Le chef Bruno Weil explique doctement qu’il faut “renouveler notre approche de Wagner” parce que le niveau sonore dans la fosse serait tel que les musiciens n’entendraient plus ce que jouent leurs voisins! Il faudrait donc “ramener de toute urgence Wagner à ses origines”, à savoir Weber, Meyerbeer et l’opéra allemand du début du XIXe siècle.

Manifestement Bruno Weil oublie (ou fait semblant d’oublier) qu’avant lui de très grands chefs -Toscanini, Karajan, Boulez, Carlos Kleiber notamment- ont radicalement renouvelé l’approche de Wagner avec un raffinement sonore, une intuition dramatique et une vérité scénique qui n’ont rien à voir avec des considérations musicologiques censées tenir lieu d’interprétation. Il oublie également que c’est en rompant avec les conventions théâtrales et opératiques de ses prédécesseurs que Wagner fit époque, précisément avec son fulgurant Vaisseau. Vouloir dérouler le scénario à l’envers, au nom d’un chimérique retour à l’authenticité, est peut-être dans l’air du temps, mais constitue un véritable contresens, puisque toute la création de Wagner est tendue vers la musique de l’avenir.

Bruno Weil revient donc à la version de Paris (1841), version dite originale, et non à la version révisée qui fut créée à Dresde sous la direction du compositeur le 2 janvier 1843. Dans son enregistrement de concert avec instruments dits d’époque il utilise aussi un effectif de cordes plus réduit, et cela s’entend. Par ailleurs, l’action se déroule maintenant en Écosse et non plus en Norvège, le capitaine s’appelle ici Donald et Erik est devenu Georg. Pour le reste pas de changements. Le résultat est honorable sans plus et ne présente qu’un intérêt discographique limité, compte tenu de la richesse et de la qualité des grands enregistrements.

Les voix, à l’image de l’orchestre, sont légères et assez peu caractérisées psychologiquement. Jörg Dürmüller a une belle voix de ténor, mais son incarnation de Georg flirte avec le style italianisant. Le Hollandais bien chantant de Terje Stensvold est assez peu dramatique, aussi bien dans l’errance que dans la malédiction. Astrid Weber par contre est une Senta engagée avec des aigus passionnés. Son incarnation du personnage vaut le détour. À l’orchestre et sur les chœurs le frisson métaphysique est cependant assez limité. C’est élégant, mais seulement documentaire.

Retour donc aux vraies tempêtes et au tragique mythologique de l’amour dans la mort: Klemperer (EMI), Karajan (avec un orchestre transcendant, malgré quelques faiblesses dans la distribution, EMI), Keilberth (Bayreuth 1955, Teldec), Keilberth (Bayreuth 1956, Myto), Dorati (Decca), Sawallisch (Bayreuth 1961, Philips), Böhm (Bayreuth 1971, DG), Reiner (avec Hotter et Astrid Varnay, Arkadia), Konwitschny (avec Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau en Hollandais, Berlin Classics), voire Solti (Decca).

Jean-Marie Brohm

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
588 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 529 MByte (flac)
Concert performances
Original version (Paris 1841) played on period instruments.