Der fliegende Holländer

Oleg Caetani
MSO Chorus, Men of the Victorian Opera Chorus
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
28 August 2008
The Arts Centre Hamer Hall Melbourne
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandBjarni Thor Kristinsson
SentaGabriele Maria Ronge
ErikStuart Skelton
MarySian Pendry
Der Steuermann DalandsAdrian Dwyer
Der HolländerJohn Wegner
Australian Stage

Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman is a tempestuous tale based on the legend of a Dutchman who is condemned to sail the stormy seas until he finds a faithful woman who will love him until death. In Wagner’s operatic masterpiece, the Dutchman is allowed to return to land every seven years to search for this elusive woman – finally, he finds Senta, a woman prepared to die for love.

Wagner’s primary source for this opera derived not only from two prose works by Heinrich Heine, but from his own experience of many months spent on an old boat in stormy seas, reflected in the stormy visions evoked in much of the music for this opera. The intensely emotional and evocative quality of this work and its story illustrates Wagner’s revolutionary approach to opera, based on his theories of Oper und Drama and Zukunftsmusik (music of the future) – the joining together of music and drama into an inseparable whole. The Flying Dutchman is typical of Wagner – a richly expressive and dramatic work on a grand-scale.

Presented in concert by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, along with the men from the Victorian Opera Chorus, and a fine selection of Australian and international soloists – a vivid rendering of the sheer scale of Wagner’s score was created. The ensemble numbers, in particular the finale, created an amazing wall of sound and power in tune with Wagner’s style and artistic vision.

Conducted by Oleg Caetani, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra opened the opera with a chilling performance of the overture which quickly established the atmosphere of a wild and windy sea… and story. The orchestral performance was powerful (at times too powerful; overpowering the soloists), yet nuanced – representing the elemental forces of nature, but also of love.

The six soloists presented polished, fine vocal performances which highlighted the lyricism beneath the sheer power of Wagner’s music. Gabriele Maria Ronge, in particular, performed commendably, replacing Lisa Gasteen with very short notice, after a neck injury forced Gasteen to withdraw from the performances. However, the casting was at times a little jarring and disconcerting, as a mature Ronge portrayed the maiden Senta, against the much younger Sian Pendry portraying Mary, Senta’s nurse.

The highlight of the performance was the renowned bass-baritone, John Wegner – the Dutchman. Wegner’s performance encapsulated Wagner’s ideal of the unification of music and drama, with a commanding vocal interpretation along with an authentic portrayal of the Dutchman’s brooding torment, and final salvation.

A concert adaptation of Wagner’s dramatic masterpiece at first seems a little misplaced (and at times the drama did become lost), however, the one-hundred and twenty member MSO chorus, along with the Victorian Opera men’s chorus brought Wagner’s music and drama to life. In the second half of the night’s performance, the chorus was divided into three ensembles on each side of the stage, creating in the final scene, through sound, a sense of the overwhelming, awe-inspiring force of Wagner’s music, and love, as Senta throws herself into the sea in her devotion for the Dutchman.

The Dutchman and Senta become transfigured – and despite the concert format, it was hard, too, not to be transformed by Wagner’s music, and the people who dedicate themselves to its performance.

Written by Olympia Bowman-Derrick
Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The Australian

Haunting without histrionics

OPERA in concert has formed an integral part of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s program during Oleg Caetani’s term as chief conductor. In 2004 he presented Wagner opera extracts in concert, a sophisticated performance justifying the presentation of Wagner without scenic extravagance and histrionics. There have since been full performances of Verdi’s Otello (2005), Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortileges (2006) and Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West (2007), each acclaimed.

This year, Caetani revisits Wagner with a performance of The Flying Dutchman, a work often treated with gruff gravitas. Caetani, however, has a knack for drawing out lyricism and refinement. Here, his approach is unlaboured and approaches a bel canto style.

Aided by a full string section that few theatre pits can accommodate, Caetani achieves outstanding orchestral balance. The horns also put in a noteworthy performance, excellently handling the highly exposed and technically challenging parts.

John Wegner’s powerful rendition of the Dutchman is on par with his award-winning performance in Barrie Kosky’s 1996 production for Opera Australia. Although revealing some vocal fatigue in quieter passages, Wegner offers a full, rich tone and an impressively sinister stage presence, including a transfixing performance of Die Frist ist um.

Stepping in at short notice for an injured Lisa Gasteen as Senta, German soprano Gabriele Maria Ronge provides a lively theatrical presence and elegant lyricism. Despite a persistent sniffle, slightly abrasive upper register and understandable dependence on the score (the other singers perform from memory), Ronge beautifully evokes every aspect of the opera’s dramatic thread, from dreamy longing in Senta’s ballad to the frenzied devotion of the final encounter with the Dutchman.

Bjarni Kristinsson as Daland is every bit the Viking seafarer. With a sonorous bass voice, his supple tone ranges from sweet to severe in accordance with the drama. As the spurned lover, Erik, Stuart Skelton is vocally impressive and dramatically intense. His tendency to close his eyes and twitch body parts in time with the orchestra is distracting and makes it difficult for Ronge to interact with him.

Adrian Dwyer’s earnest interpretation of the Steersman suits his clean, penetrating tone and lyrical phrasing. Sian Pendry plays Mary with a wonderful playfulness.

The women of the MSO Chorus give a joyful and charming rendition of the Spinning Chorus, but the men seem a little at sea as the ghostly galleon’s crew. In contrast, the Victorian Opera Chorus men clearly relish being drunken sailors for a day and sing with quality and gusto.


User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
128 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 124 MByte (MP3)
Broadcast of a concert performance
Gabriele Maria Ronge replaced Lisa Gasteen who had to cancel the performances because of a neck injury.