Der fliegende Holländer

Yannick Nézet-Séguin
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
29 April 2017
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
DalandFranz-Josef Selig
SentaAmber Wagner
ErikAJ Glueckert
MaryDolora Zajick
Der Steuermann DalandsBen Bliss
Der HolländerMichael Volle
New York Times

Met Opera’s Next Music Director Captains a Blazing ‘Dutchman’

What do the musicians of the Metropolitan Opera’s orchestra think about the appointment of Yannick Nézet-Séguin as the company’s next music director? The players found two ways to express their feelings on Tuesday night, when Mr. Nézet-Séguin led a revival of Wagner’s “Der Fliegende Holländer” (“The Flying Dutchman”), his first appearance since the announcement last June that he would succeed James Levine.

When Mr. Nézet-Séguin appeared onstage for a curtain call, the players nearly pelted him with dozens of flowers, a gesture that caused him to smile with gratitude while ducking for cover. The more revealing expression of support, though, was the exciting performance the orchestra gave under this charismatic French Canadian conductor, who turned 42 last month.

Though the playing abounded in youthful energy and dramatic sweep, other, deeper qualities distinguished the account of this early Wagner opera, first performed in Dresden in 1843. Mr. Nézet-Séguin drew both heaving intensity and diaphanous beauty from the music (here performed in the version with instrumental transitions between the acts, forming a continuous drama of some two hours and 20 minutes).

Striving for absolute precision seemed not the driving concern. Now and then there were slightly shaky entrances, and little glitches of coordination between the chorus and the orchestra. This hardly mattered, for all the naturalness and immediacy of the playing. This was a sensual, inexorable account of the opera.

The Met has assembled an excellent cast for Mr. Nézet-Séguin, especially the two leads. The German baritone Michael Volle brought a dark, muscular voice and chilling gravity to the title role, the mariner who, having provoked a satanic curse, must sail the stormy seas with a ghostly crew, permitted to make a single brief stop every seven years on a quest to be redeemed by a faithful woman.

And the American soprano Amber Wagner, in her first appearance at the house in more than four years, gave a star-making performance as Senta, a strange young woman obsessed with the legend of the Dutchman and convinced that she can be his redeemer. Ms. Wagner took some time to warm up, and occasionally she seemed overly calculated in her singing. But her powerful, gleaming and richly expressive voice was ideal for the music. And in her most fraught, intense moments she was extraordinary.

The singers seemed emboldened by the support they received from Mr. Nézet-Séguin, who said in an interview in the program that while “The Flying Dutchman” was rooted in the Romantic tradition of Weber, the opera was “extremely visionary” as well. He explored both dimensions — the way Wagner looks both forward and back — but seemed especially concerned with making clear the score’s debts to earlier opera, a refreshing approach. In the overture, the statement of the stirring theme associated with the Dutchman had an ominous cast, but also folkloric vigor. The subdued passage that explores the theme of redemption unfolded mysteriously.

In the first scene, when Daland, Senta’s father (the robust bass Franz-Josef Selig), orders the young Steersman (the fresh-voiced lyric tenor Ben Bliss) to stand watch while their ship is anchored some miles from home, the Steersman breaks into a jocular song. Mr. Nézet-Séguin guided Mr. Bliss in a performance that had the directness and intimacy of a Schubert lied. Yet as the sailor drifted to sleep, the conductor captured the ominous Wagnerian undertow in the orchestra.

Mr. Nézet-Séguin boldly plumbed the music for wayward harmonic turns, mercurial shifts and weighty orchestral depths, as in the Dutchman’s long, brooding monologue when we first meet him. In this 1989 production, originally directed by August Everding, which updates the story to the industrial age, the Dutchman’s stage-filling ship resembles a massive black oil tanker. Mr. Volle’s Dutchman slowly made his way down a steep exit ramp, stopping to express his anguished longing for salvation. Mr. Volle’s voice, though not enormous, has the richness and heft to lift Wagner’s tormented phrases. Only in his softer singing did his voice seem patchy.

Taking the place of Jay Hunter Morris, who withdrew from the run for personal reasons, the clarion, sensitive tenor AJ Glueckert had a solid Met debut as Erik, the earnest huntsman who loves Senta. The veteran mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick was Mary, Senta’s admonishing nurse. And the Met choristers were terrific, both the men in the sailors’ songs and the women in the spinning room scene.

The main news, though, was Mr. Nézet-Séguin’s exceptional performance. Although he does not take charge full time until 2020 — a long wait — he has begun to talk about his plans for the Met, including commissioning new works, perhaps developed in collaboration with the Philadelphia Orchestra (where he is also music director), and occasionally getting the company out of Lincoln Center and into the communities of New York. All of this sounds encouraging, as was his terrific “Dutchman.”


The Observer

Rousing ‘Dutchman’ at the Met Is Enough to Wake the Undead

Over the years you get used to seeing all sorts of things in the opera house. I can remember a performance of Lohengrin in New Orleans back in the 1970s when the regal wedding procession to the Antwerp cathedral was interrupted not by the wicked sorceress Ortrud but rather by a paunchy stagehand in a wife beater who wandered on stage absent-mindedly.

But what happened at the end of last night’s performance of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer at the Met was something close to unique in my experience. When the conductor, music director designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin, took his curtain call, dozens of roses erupted from the orchestra pit, pelting the maestro in a shower of red and gold as his eyes glistened.

The famously temperamental Met orchestra clearly adores working with their new leader, and in that they are only half a step ahead of the company’s audience. The cheers and bravos for the maestro both before and after the performances are a clear indication he is on track to become a Met superstar as beloved and important as Anna Netrebko or Placido Domingo.

For this performance, Nézet-Séguin deserved every decibel of acclaim and then some. In this setting of the gothic tale of the cursed Flying Dutchman and his zombie ship’s crew, more than two hours of intermissionless bombast and lyricism seemed to fly without pausing for breath. The momentum was irresistible.

Here and there your mind cleared for a moment, long enough to admire the conductor’s imaginative but respectful way with the score. What we heard was not Nézet-Séguin’s Holländer, but rather, it seemed, Wagner’s. The maestro’s brisk tempos and clean sonorities seemed to dissolve decades of accretion, as a fine art restorer will strip away dirt and soot to reveal the clean purity of the original stone.

The conductor was blessed with a superb cast, headed by the complementary talents of baritone Michael Volle, crackling with demonic energy as the cursed Dutchman, and Amber Wagner, her dramatic soprano at a constant slow boil as his loving and obsessed Senta.

Wagner—the composer that is—had a habit of assigning his opera characters punning monikers that suggest their personalities and attributes. In that spirit, he would likely have delighted in soprano Wagner. Her surname points to the music at which she will surely concentrate and excel in her career, and “Amber” aptly describes her voice: radiant yet complex, with a timeless repose suggestive of the great Wagner divas of decades ago like Astrid Varnay.

In this supernatural saga, even the mundane real-world characters shone. Bass Franz-Josef Selig sang the part of Senta’s father Daland with such easy nonchalance it was believable his character would promise his daughter in marriage to the creepy Mr. Volle. AJ Glueckert’s warm tenor as Erik made domesticity sound downright seductive, and the piece’s other tenor, Ben Bliss practically stole the third act with his adorably clueless Steersman.

Holländer is a chorus-intensive opera, and the Met’s indefatigable crew made this performance sound so fresh and energetic it was easy to forget we’re only a couple of weeks away from the end of the season. The men’s chorus in particular sang with such testosterone-soaked enthusiasm they could be jobbed out to do recruiting commercials for the Norwegian navy.

Emerging from the Met into the drizzle-drenched Lincoln Center plaza, I felt oddly optimistic. As with the story of Der Fliegende Holländer, there must be a light at the end of all that gray gloom. And that light, I venture to say, is named Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

James Jorden | 04/26/17

Financial Times

Der Fliegende Holländer — bland and wan

If this production of Wagner’s opera has a hero, it is conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin

The mighty Met hasn’t been flying high of late when it comes to Der Fliegende Holländer. August Everding’s production, first seen here in 1989 and last ventured in 2010, plays slow and loose with Wagner’s drama. The current re-director, Stephen Pickover, recycles picturesque decors by Hans Schavernoch amid manoeuvres more notable for prettiness than for theatricality.

It is worth noting that the most striking hint at directorial originality entails having the heroine’s girlfriends sew bed-sheets throughout Act Two. Never mind that both text and score insist on spinning wheels.

If the performance on Tuesday had a hero, he was working in the pit, not onstage. Yannick Nézet-Séguin sustained masterly storm and stress, but reflection too, on the podium, and elicited even more than the vital virtuosity we have come to expect from the Met orchestra.

Unfortunately, the work within the proscenium proved less spectacular. Cast as the titular Dutchman, Michael Volle acted with compact anguish and looked agreeably dangerous. However, to anyone old and silly enough to remember Hans Hotter or George London in the role, he sounded bland, his essentially lyric baritone lacking both depth and darkness. Franz-Josef Selig blustered conscientiously as the sea-dog Daland, the nice captain who blithely sells his daughter to a rich stranger. Ben Bliss offered pleasant distractions as the Steersman, a claim that could not be made for AJ Glueckert, the stronger tenor on duty, whose amorous entreaties as Erik remained stubbornly wan.

As Senta, the heroine, Amber Wagner’s lush dramatic soprano sounded shrill even on the rare occasions when it was not subjected to undue force. Although hardly girlish, she worked through Everding’s hand-me-down prima donna routines with aplomb. In context, unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. Dolora Zajick made much of the minor, sinister duties allotted old Mary. The veteran mezzo-soprano rolled deftly about the stage in the post-Bayreuth wheelchair that apparently has become part of her character’s persona. No harm done but no intrinsic reason for it either.

Martin Bernheimer | April 26, 2017

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320 kbit/s CBR, 48.0 kHz, 329 MByte (MP3)
A production by August Everding (1989)