Der fliegende Holländer

James Levine
Tanglewood Festival Chorus
Boston Symphony Orchestra
15 March 2005
Koussevitzky Music Shed Tanglewood
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandMichail Petrenko
SentaDeborah Voigt
ErikAlfons Eberz
MaryJane Bunnell
Der Steuermann DalandsPaul Groves
Der HolländerJuha Uusitalo
Boston Herald

BSO comes through with `Flying’ colors

By T.J. Medrek/ Concert Notebook
Sunday, March 13, 2005

In one of the most anticipated evenings of the Boston Symphony Orchestra season, James Levine led the orchestra in a triumphant concert performance Friday of Wagner’s opera “The Flying Dutchman” at Symphony Hall.

This was Levine’s first full operatic outing since becoming BSO music director at the beginning of this season. And opera, of course, is what Levine is most noted for. After all, next year is the 35th anniversary of his debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, which he’s basically been in charge of ever since.

There was even some last-minute drama when star soprano Deborah Voigt, a frequent Levine colleague and one of the most celebrated singers of the day, called in sick. But thanks to the solid effort of her replacement, Elizabeth Byrne, the show was able to go on and become one more in a string of Levine-led unforgettable nights at the BSO.

The story is this: The Dutchman is doomed to sail the oceans blue for eternity. Only every seven years does he get to walk on dry land. If he then can find a woman to love and be true to him, he will be set free and, like a gender-reversed “Little Mermaid,” abandon his sea legs for good. On his latest attempt he meets Daland, who happens to have a daughter, Senta, who happens to be obsessed with the Dutchman’s legendary plight. She proves to be the Dutchman’s salvation, if not in the way she’d hoped.

Finnish baritone Juha Uusitalo was a commanding Dutchman. His voice isn’t so much beautiful as it is big, mysterious and remarkably expressive. And his appearance – think actor Philip Seymour Hoffman doing a Viking (or Klingon?) thing – made him an ideal embodiment of the character.

As the last-minute Senta, Byrne sang with bright tone and firmly conveyed her character’s obsessive resolve. If her voice didn’t seem entirely pulled together here – her highest notes were particularly problematic, but they’re not her strongest suit anyway – that certainly could be forgiven under the circumstances. Tenor Alfons Eberz offered a huge if slightly unwieldy sound in the thankless role of Senta’s suitor, Erik, while bass Mikhail Petrenko was a delightfully nimble-voiced Daland. Jane Bunnell and Paul Groves did well in smaller roles.

But the two true glories of the evening were the luxurious yet electrically charged playing of the orchestra under Levine and the downright thrilling singing of John Oliver’s Tanglewood Festival Chorus.

Financial Times

James Levine’s affinity for unreconstructed modernism may be attracting some flak from Boston Symphony traditionalists. An article in the Boston Globe wondered whether “the price of Levine’s conducting genius” was “worth all the hypermodernistic pieces by Schönberg, Carter and Babbitt.” (The answer was a qualified “Yes”.) The modernism of the early Flying Dutchman was something Wagner touted heavily later on. But the formal underpinnings of the Dutchman’s long scenes with Daland and Senta derive straight from the four-movement Rossini duet.

The work packs much enjoyment, as Levine’s visceral approach in concert made abundantly clear. Whatever one may think of the conductor’s way with later Wagner, this Dutchman was suffused with a red-hot energy that recalled the fiery youth who conquered the Metropolitan Opera decades ago.

Illness kept Deborah Voigt from two performances and at the third, she was mostly obscured, as the singers were placed behind the orchestra – not ideal given the whipped-up orchestral sound. However, her singing was good, though parts of the “Ballade” sounded plain where one wanted them disembodied and otherworldly. I wish more had had the excitement and abandon of her final outbursts.

The commanding Finnish baritone Juha Uusitalo has attracted international attention as the Dutchman, and his expressive performance showed why – the character’s anguish emanates from deep within voice itself. The young Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko sang beautifully, but as yet lacks the vocal weight and darkness for an ideal Daland. Alfons Eberz sang Erik with more forcefulness than lyricism, and Paul Groves was a polished Steersman.

George Loomis

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Premiere 1772
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 322 MByte (MP3)
In-house recording
Concert performance