Der fliegende Holländer

Asher Fisch
Seattle Opera Chorus and Orchestra
11 August 2007
McCaw Hall Seattle
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandDaniel Sumegi
SentaJane Eaglen
ErikJay Hunter Morris
MaryLuretta Bybee
Der Steuermann DalandsJason Collins
Der HolländerGreer Grimsley

Along with superb orchestral playing under the baton of Asher Fisch, who made his authoritative mark from bar one, the first thing to enjoy in Seattle Opera’s revival of its 1989 Flying Dutchman production was the stage picture during the overture. There wasn’t one. It is indeed refreshing these days, when many directors seem to feel that any time an audience spends confronting a closed curtain is time wasted, to be allowed to enjoy the overture’s atmospheric foreshadowing of the drama without being distracted by fussy and unnecessary stage business on a prematurely exposed stage.

The foreshadowing in this case, moreover, turned out to very fully prophetic of the conviction and dramatic impact of all that followed. Stephen Wadsworth and his designers placed Wagner’s mythical story in the present, with jeans dominating among the costumes, and bicycles featuring among the props. While many such an updating makes nonsense of essential elements in the opera it is intended to illuminate, this one dramatized the otherness of the unfortunate Dutchman, whose richly ornamented 18th-century looking costume stood out brilliantly from the prosaic contemporaneity of everyone else’s clothes. The background, too, with finely detailed ships on hand in the first and last acts (the Dutch ship, with its blood-red sails, making a chillingly ghostly first entry thanks to Joan Arhelger’s expert lighting design), and an equally meticulous indoor set in place in Act II, facilitated the plot without getting in the way.

Fortunately, the cast was in every way up to the challenge of realizing the human and metaphysical implications played out in this environment. I thought a different costuming approach might have helped Jane Eaglen look more like Senta, but the character’s obsession with first the idea and then the reality of the Dutchman was clearly and movingly represented, and the great soprano was in authentically thrilling voice. Two excellent tenors, Jason Collins (a finalist in the company’s first International Wagner Competition last year) and Jay Hunter Morris, made more respectively of the Steersman and the spurned lover Erik than is commonly the case. Luretta Bybee was just as successful in enlivening the sometimes colorless role of Mary. The Australian bass Daniel Sumegi, meanwhile, was a sympathetic Daland–a personage whose easy-going venality and cosy human warmth recall the character of Rocco in Beethoven’s Fidelio –and projected with style and apparent ease the Italian melodic lines that coexist in the score with hints of the mature Wagner to come. And Beth Kirchhoff’s large and lively chorus matched the prevailing orchestral splendor with singing of exemplary vividness and power.

But central to the success of any Dutchman production is the Dutchman himself. In this role, Greer Grimsley, who is a Seattle Opera favorite but whom I was encountering for the first time, covered himself with glory. A handsome man, slim of build, he looked the part, and his singing was a sumptuous outpouring of bass-baritone sound, molded with style and sensitivity. Indeed, the long section of Act II leading up to his understanding with Senta was as beautiful and as profoundly expressive as any performance of it I can recall hearing.

I have just one small criticism to offer of the stage deportment both of the Dutchman and of Daland. If the Dutchman’s Frist really is um, offering him one more chance of finding redemption after seven agonizing years at sea, and if Daland really is face to face with the prospect of welcoming a rich son-in-law, then these gentlemen should surely not be standing around with their hands in their pockets – something more urgently charged by way of demeanor is called for. That, I suppose, is the sort of thing to be expected when a production is revived after a nearly 20-year interval. (I have no idea whether the Dutchman and Daland back in 1989 displayed the same sang-froid.) But it was an infinitesimal blemish in a music-theater experience that was otherwise as theatrically compelling as it was musically satisfying. I begin to understand how Speight Jenkins’s Seattle Opera has won its reputation as the American Wagner company par excellence.

Bernard Jacobson (rez. Aufführung 19. 8. 2007)

Seattle Post-Intelligence

Musical strength of ‘Dutchman’ overcomes faults


When Seattle Opera mounted the first of its three “Ring” cycles in the 1970s, the company became known as a place to hear the operas of Richard Wagner. Its productions of the 10 operas that make up the Wagnerian canon were regarded to be visually compelling, well-conducted and handsomely sung.

Landmarks include the latter two “Rings,” “Lohengrin,” “Der Meistersinger,” “Tristan und Isolde” and “Parsifal,” which opened McCaw Hall in 2003. The company’s production of “The Flying Dutchman,” premiered in 1989, is not in that class, mostly because Thomas Lynch’s set design seems prosaic by comparison. However, its revival, which opened Saturday night at McCaw, is so strong musically those visual issues seem less important.

Three elements made the performance powerful and reminded one why this opera is regarded as the first work of genius by Wagner. Starting with the overture — thank goodness, the curtain remains down so there were no distractions — the urgency of the score as well as its beauty were readily apparent. Asher Fisch, who has done such superb work for Seattle Opera, as well as the Seattle Symphony, led the orchestra in a performance that had gleaming polish, unmistakable vigor, a magisterial sound and plenty of nuance.

Wagner calls for a huge contribution from the chorus, especially the men. They must sing powerfully as well as quietly. And they did, with finesse, focus and vibrant character. Indeed, they were extraordinary. Under Beth Kirchhoff’s leadership, the chorus has grown in musical stature, all of which was given full exposure Saturday night.

Greer Grimsley sang the title role. He is a fixture at Seattle Opera, doing a diverse repertory of Wagner operas as well as French and Italian. Not only does he move well on stage and possess genuine presence, he has sure musical instincts that support a voice of remarkable depth and lyric breath. His Dutchman was intelligent and impassioned.

Singing Senta was Jane Eaglen. She is also well-known at Seattle Opera and a local resident. As the woman who commits herself to the Dutchman, Eaglen gave evidence of her principal strengths — a big, warm sound and full-bodied high notes — and principal defects. Unfortunately, she did not look well on stage. Neither the all-black costume nor her short-cropped hair suggested strength, naivety or youth.

Jay Hunter Morris provided amplitude as Senta’s rejected suitor. He was impetuous, vehement and curiously sympathetic, and his voice had the gravity to suit the character. Daniel Sumegi’s Daland, Senta’s father, was appropriately sober-minded, “a figure of everyday life,” who didn’t let love get in the way of greed. Jason Collins, a finalist in Seattle Opera’s Wagner Competition a year ago, made his company debut as the Steersman. He was carefully coached but that could not completely overcome his nerves. At his best, he sang with the ringing sound I remember from last summer and a quiet intensity.

Stephen Wadsworth was the stage director in 1989 and returned to reset the production. He worked hard to make movement real and naturalistic, but his efforts, in the main, often seemed just that.

Lynch updated the time of the opera to the 1930s, to suggest the amount of time that had elapsed from the beginning of the Dutchman’s eternal journey to the present day. So, there are fluorescent lights in Daland’s house as well as a refrigerator and other signs of the modern age, even bicycles. The clothes, by Dunya Ramicova, are nondescript, probably quite accurate for a simple Norwegian village, except for the Dutchman’s elegant 18th-century costume.

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Premiere 2768
Technical Specifications
256 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 261 MByte (MP3)
Source: webstream
A production by Stephen Wadsworth (1998)
There was a short drop out of the stream during the overture.