Der fliegende Holländer

Daniel Barenboim
Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin
Staatskapelle Berlin
Date/Location
May/June 2001
Studio 1 NLG Gmbh Berlin
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
DalandRobert Holl
SentaJane Eaglen
ErikPeter Seiffert
MaryFelicity Palmer
Der Steuermann DalandsRolando Villazón
Der HolländerFalk Struckmann
Gallery
Reviews
Corliss Phillabaum

This is a very well-recorded and general satisfying performance. Its nature as a studio recording is evident in the lack of any theatrical use of the possibilities of stereo – the soloists are anchored stage center and the chorus is arrayed across the sound stage in concert position. However Barenboim whips up considerable excitement and the soloists are generally dramatically engaged, while the slightly forward placement of the voices and generally good diction of the cast do Wagner’s words justice. The most distinctive element of the performance, aside from the presence of Rolando Villazon as the Steersman, is Barenboim’s decision to return Senta’s ballad to its original high key, a rarity in performances today. Unfortunately soprano Jane Eaglen’s voice is not shown to advantage in this high tessitura, although she sings the role attractively otherwise. Barenboim also uses Wagner’s original endings for the overture and for Act Three, omitting the Atransfiguration music Wagner added many years later, also a fairly unusual choice in modern performances.

The cast is uniformly strong. Falk Struckmann’s dark, powerful bass-baritone creates a compelling Dutchman, less introspective than some, but doing justice to the anguish of the character. Eaglen’s warm soprano is attractive except in higher passages where it takes on an edge, and she is more expressive here than I have usually heard her. Robert Holl is a warmvoiced and rather sympathetic Daland, while Peter Seiffert’s tenor (as Erik) shows traces of the effect of singing the heavier Wagner roles he had recently been taking on. Villazon is an appealing Steersman and his German is excellent. Not a top choice but worth hearing.

musicweb-international.com

It was most fortuitous that these two sets arrived at the same time, as they make for a fascinating comparison. One is able to hear side by side one of the great Wagnerians of the recent past with one of the very finest of the current generation. It has to be said straightaway that the Solti Dutchman was not generally considered as one of his better achievements in the studio. In a recent Gramophone survey that looked at all the (then) currently available versions of Wagner’s first real masterpiece, Alan Blyth dismissed the Solti Chicago recording as being “marred not only by his abrupt, blatant treatment of the score and by unidiomatic playing from the Chicago orchestra, but also by indifferent singers”. He went on to pick fault with most of the cast, finding praise only for Martti Talvela, whose “characterful Daland remains as sole asset”. Many other general guides also found this recording to be probably the weakest of Solti’s entire Wagner cycle, certainly nowhere near the achievement of his Ring or Tannhauser. It would be interesting to hear what Blyth will make of the new Teldec Dutchman. Barenboim’s approach in so many ways represents the antithesis of the hard-driven Solti, and coming, as it often does with this conductor, on the back of recently staged performances, the resulting electricity and spontaneity are indeed impressive.

I have to confess here to a slight partiality regarding the Solti. When I was a music student in the late 1970s, the music library at the time held only one version of Dutchman, this very one. I remember playing it many times, and always wondered why it had been so poorly received. Now, after a twenty-odd year gap, I can plainly hear the good and the bad in this performance. For a start, when one has experienced the earlier Decca approach, masterminded by John Culshaw, where the listener is given a truly theatrical aural production, complete with tasteful special effects, Solti’s Dutchman does seem remarkably studio bound. This is most obviously apparent in the ‘supernatural’ elements of the score – the arrival of the Dutchman’s ship, the ‘yo-ho’s’ from Daland’s crew across to the ghost crew at the start of Act 3, where the two male choruses appear to be side by side. Barenboim’s engineers have tried to at least give us a taste of the theatre, with good spatial separation and the odd touch of reverb echo. This is, of course, a personal thing, and would not bother some listeners one jot if the actual performances were any good. This is where the comparisons get interesting.

The conducting of Barenboim seems to me to be virtually ideal in all important respects. Take the Overture. The timings from both conductors are remarkably similar, Solti taking 11’05 against Barenboim’s 10’19. Solti’s extra seconds come mainly from using the revised version, with its extra ‘Tristanesque’ transformation cadence added to the end, so the timings are extremely close, and yet the results are very different. Solti maintains a fairly consistent, quick-ish pulse which is fine as far as it goes, but seems prosaic and a tad dull beside Barenboim. In his hands, the ‘salty sea air’ which pervades this music really comes through, and the ebb and flow of the internal tensions in the music is made to feel tangible. Wagner’s consistent use of diminished sevenths (so criticised by Berlioz) is varied in Barenboim’s hands, and he adopts the Furtwängler idea of a ‘breathing pulse’ which lets the contours of each phrase surge and then pull back, very effective in music of this sort. This approach is adopted throughout, with long paragraphs of the score varied from within, the orchestra following his every twist and turn. There is nothing wrong with Solti’s conducting, it just doesn’t seem to bring the music alive quite as effectively.

The casts in the two recordings have their strengths and weaknesses. Of the two title characters, I found most satisfaction from Falk Struckmann. He is a Barenboim regular, having sung superbly in the latter’s Lohengrin and making a memorable impression as Kurwenal in Tristan. Here he is able to really dominate, and his tortured Dutchman comes over as virile and masculine, yet understandably anxious and even vulnerable. Norman Bailey is good vocally, though a touch strained in the upper register, but appears too avuncular and ‘comfortable’ in the part. The first great monologue ‘Die Frist ist um’ (the time is up) gives us the two basic approaches to perfection. Struckmann (encouraged by Barenboim) makes the aria into a mini-opera in its own right, pointing words more effectively and building climaxes inexorably, where Bailey sounds too polite and gentlemanly. Some of his more introspect moments are convincing, but Struckmann scores in nearly every scene, especially as things hot up.

I have reservations about Jane Eaglen’s portrayal of Senta. Of course she is capable of great contrast and her vocal ability is admirable, but she doesn’t convey enough of the fiery spirit of the girl, and consistently sounds too mature for the part. She tones the voice down for her famous Ballad (which Barenboim transposes up to its original key of A minor), but when things get feverish, the voice spreads uncomfortably, approaching a squall in places. There are many good things (her first meeting with the Dutchman is effective) but it is a little uneven overall. In the Solti set Janis Martin, who was criticised originally for being too girlish and one-dimensional, now sounds quite convincing. Her dreamy idealism fits the bill, and she certainly is sweet-toned and naive enough to be a young Wagner heroine. The voice has a slightly quicker vibrato that sounds strained in places, but doesn’t produce as much of a beat as Eaglen. Overall, I found much to enjoy in her performance.

Barenboim’s Erik is Peter Seiffert (a one time Steersman for Sinopoli) who has already recorded the part for the outstanding Naxos set under Pinchas Steinberg. Here, ten years on, his voice is not quite as fresh, though the interpretation has matured. Seiffert has blossomed under Barenboim (he sings a superb Lohengrin for him) and he uses his experience to make the most of what can be a rather wimpish, thankless role. He is certainly in better voice than Rene Kollo, who sounds strained almost all the time for Solti. At his best (say in the RCA Die Tote Stadt ) he is a great artist, but too often in the big Wagner roles he doesn’t sound up to the job. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Barenboim’s Steersman as a future Erik – and more. The Spanish tenor Rolando Villazon sounds for all the world like a young Domingo, and gives a touching portrayal of the virile but naïve youth that is exciting and convincing. Old hand Werner Krenn does what is required of him for Solti.

There is not much to choose between the two Dalands, though on balance I think I prefer the greater variety of Martti Talvela, also recording the part for the second time. Robert Holl, who certainly has a magnificent voice, sounds a shade under-characterised by comparison.

So, pros and cons for both sets. The Solti is now at mid-price, and though in re-mastered analogue sound, is full and resonantly clear, well up to Decca’s house standards. The Teldec sound is demonstration worthy, with voices superbly placed and the rich carpet of orchestral tone sounding sumptuous and rich. Orchestral playing on both sets is first-rate, though I feel the palm must go to Barenboim here, the German orchestra producing marvellous string unanimity and wind and brass playing that is not crude or brash, just thrilling and vital. Choruses on both are excellent. The Teldec booklet note is by current Wagner expert Mike Ashman, who always gives a provocatively different angle on familiar music. The Decca booklet produces a long and wonderfully detailed account of the opera’s genesis from much-missed Wagner scholar Deryck Cooke.

The Solti set should not be written off as one of his Wagnerian ‘also-rans’ – there are too many good things in it, particularly Janis Martin and Martti Talvela. But Barenboim’s set is a superb climax to his Wagner series, by any standards one of the best of recent years. Older collectors will have their firm favourites (Keilberth and Klemperer come to mind) but younger music lovers coming new to this score will find on the Teldec a sense of real discovery, of a conductor still thrilled by the inspiration of Wagner’s ground-breaking vision.

Tony Haywood

classical-music.com

Seven years have to pass before the Flying Dutchman is allowed back on to land to try his luck again. Some of us have been waiting a good deal longer than that for an ideal recording of the work: one that fully conveys both the torment and the demonic quality of the eternal mariner, with a Senta both compassionate and able to negotiate her taxing role, plus superb conducting and the highest modern recording standards. Major-league recordings have come in recent years from Dohnányi, Levine and Sinopoli, but all are flawed in one way or another. Now Barenboim completes his first-rate Wagner cycle with a Dutchman that, while excellently conducted in terms of both pace and textural detail, falls short of the ideal on the vocal front. Falk Struckmann’s Dutchman is darkly coloured, technically secure and powerfully projected, but he doesn’t bring to it the variety of declamation and musical intelligence of Fischer-Dieskau (for Konwitschny on Berlin Classics). Similarly Jane Eaglen bestrides the top register of Senta’s part with comparative ease, tackling the Ballad in the original higher key of A minor with gusto. She sounds uninvolved in her exchanges with Erik, however, and in the big duet with the Dutchman, she steams ahead like an ocean liner without really engaging in the dynamics of the role. Peter Seiffert, though a touch bland, and Robert Holl are acceptable as Erik and Daland, while Felicity Palmer is an incisive Mary. The orchestral and choral forces are excellent. The new recording is good enough to become the new benchmark, but I hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for Bryn Terfel to make the definitive one.

ClassicsToday.com

Would that this beautifully played and conceived Dutchman were nearly as well sung! Daniel Barenboim opts for quick tempos throughout but never holds back on the drama. (His timings are almost exactly the same as Sinopoli’s, and 15 minutes faster than Klemperer’s on Living Stage, a live performance from London in 1968 in great sound and even better than his EMI recording.) The abrupt changes in mood in this work are beautifully handled, and the superb recording has made it easy for us to bask in some early-Wagner details that often get lost. I don’t recall ever hearing the wonderful dancing trumpet figures near the very end of the Norwegians’ rowdy Act 3 chorus (right before the ghost-crew’s wind-swept response) so clearly–it’s nice to hear Wagner’s inner workings occasionally. And the transition from the Dutchman’s darkness to the duet with Daland is just another example of Barenboim’s welcome theatricality. His orchestra and chorus respond magnificently throughout.

Falk Struckmann’s Dutchman gets better as the opera goes on. He’s always dramatically on top of this remarkably overwrought yet resigned character, but his voice sounds like a decidedly second-rate instrument until the third act. He may be doing this on purpose, but I doubt it; it’s a lack of quality and focus I’m picking up, not dramatic thrust. And Jane Eaglen is bland. The sound is “prettier” than most Sentas (Silja, Rysanek), but nothing sounds urgent and the singing itself is not first rate. She flats on a top note during the second-act duet and elsewhere the voice all-too-often loses its center. If Senta doesn’t carry us through the opera on her obsession, what will?

Peter Seiffert’s Erik is urgent and tonally handsome, and Robert Holl’s Daland is right-on but dry sounding and seriously lacking if you compare him with Talvela or Sotin. Felicity Palmer makes us pay attention to Mary, and the Steersman–always beautifully cast on recordings–introduces a new gorgeous-voiced tenor, Rolando Villazon. Barenboim uses the Dresden version, without the “transfiguration” music at the end. In brief, despite gorgeous orchestral playing and choral singing, this Dutchman need not wander into your collection.

Robert Levine

Guardian

This new recording marks the long-awaited completion of Daniel Barenboim’s cycle of Wagner’s major scores. We live in an era of great Wagner conductors, of whom Barenboim is one. Standards of Wagner singing, however, have slipped of late. Der Fliegende Holländer has rarely been as well conducted as it is here – you have to go back to the classic versions by Keilberth, Klemperer and Sawallisch to find Barenboim’s equal. Yet against that must be set the fact that the opera is, for the most part, wretchedly sung, at times embarrassingly so.

As with all Barenboim’s Wagner recordings, care as well as passion has gone into its preparation. There are multifarious editions of the score, with which Wagner repeatedly tinkered after the 1843 premiere. Barenboim has picked his way through the various editions, preserving the one act format and meticulously keeping Wagner’s final thoughts on orchestration. He also restores the original keys for some of Senta’s music, which Wagner lowered before the first performance to suit his soprano.

The opera derives its dramatic clout from the juxtaposition of the Dutchman’s isolated, metaphysical tragedy with the normative values of a materialistic, mercantile society. Barenboim sharply differentiates the two, unleashing terrifying storms, at once physical, psychic, and spiritual, and wedging them against the prissy suavity with which Wagner depicts the bourgeois world from which Senta longs for release. The playing is astonishing. Raw strings and belting brass convey the hell-on-earth of the Dutchman’s existence. The hope of redemption gleams in otherworldly woodwind. Daland’s home is a cushy miasma of plush strings, its safety rickety at best.

The orchestral excitement, however, renders the autopilot approach of the cast even more alarming. When the best singing comes from the Mary (Felicity Palmer, admirably crone-like and moralistic) and the Steersman (Rolando Villazon, sweet and nostalgic) then you have a problem. This is rather like sitting through a performance of Hamlet in which the best actor is playing Fortinbras. Barenboim’s Dutchman is Falk Struckmann, whose desiccated tone suggests the exhaustion of a man fated both to eternal life on earth and spiritual annihilation beyond the grave. He does precious little with the text, however, registering not so much as a flicker of emotional anguish. As Senta, Jane Eaglen yowls and shrieks her way through the music in a way that is excruciating. Peter Seiffert is an effortful Erik – the role needs an altogether more lyrical sound. Robert Holl, blunt and unimaginative, is plausible as Daland, though even he woofs in places.

So despite Barenboim’s superlative contribution the set cannot be recommended as a first choice. The benchmark performance remains Joseph Keilberth’s 1955 Bayreuth recording, featuring Hermann Uhde’s terrifying Dutchman and Astrid Varnay’s deranged, obsessive Senta. Coming also from Teldec, and at a fraction of the price of Barenboim’s effort, it serves as a reminder of a period when Wagner was as greatly sung as he was conducted.

Tim Ashley

Filomusica

Con el Holandés Errante que ahora publica Teldec, Daniel Barenboim ha concluido su grabación de las diez obras escénicas importantes de Wagner, algo que solamente Solti había conseguido antes que él. Un ciclo grabado en un corto espacio de tiempo (desde 1989 que comenzó a grabarse el Parsifal) y con resultados irregulares, que iban desde el excelente de Tristán hasta otros más flojos como por ejemplo su Lohengrin.

Para este Holandés había cierta expectación, ya que se trata de una de las obras de Wagner que Barenboim más ha dirigido en teatros desde hacía más tiempo, y los testimonios recogidos indicaban que era, junto a Tristán, la que mejor entendía. Sin embargo, en parte tal vez por la premura de la grabación (que se hizo en la misma época que el Tannhäuser comentado el pasado mes de mayo en Filomúsica, es decir mayo-junio de 2001) o en parte por un reparto “manifiestamente mejorable”, el caso es que nos parece que Barenboim no ha dado en esta obra todo lo que podía dar.

Comenzando por la dirección, donde el apasionamiento del director español-argentino-israelí se puede percibir en los frecuentes “mugidos” que emite, cual si se tratara de una grabación en vivo (que no lo es), ya la Obertura, realmente rutilante, y la primera escena, con una orquesta de enorme dinámica mostrando el oleaje del mar o un coro que expresa la rudeza de los marineros, hacen esperar lo mejor de esta versión (el único punto de extrañeza es un “empalme” al final de la Obertura, debido a la mezcla de dos versiones distintas de la partitura, que da la impresión de que faltara alguna nota). Sin embargo, la ilusión termina cuando llegamos al primer diálogo del Holandés con Daland, que difícilmente podrá ser más aburrido, parece que si lo tocan y lo cantan es “porque es obligatorio”, porque está ahí en la partitura (y los cantantes, poco motivados, no ayudan para elevar la nota).

El resto de la versión se mueve entre esos dos extremos de calidad. Hay momentos en que la dirección está a buena altura: en general en los que recuerdan el mar (Balada de Senta, Coro de Marineros) o evocan lo sobrenatural (La escena de los espectros, con un estruendo “de mil demonios” que ha sido precedido por una acumulación “ominosa” de la tensión, recurso en el que Barenboim es especialista). Sin embargo, admitiendo la correción de todas estas escenas, difícilmente provocarán en el oyente un entusiasmo como sí provocaban la Obertura o el coro inicial.

Por otra parte, los dúos de amor Senta-Erik o Senta-Holandés están dirigidos con gran delicadeza, aun con el peligro de caer en el estatismo, y en el Coro de las Hilanderas y toda la escena con Mary se observa cierta falta de “chispa”, suena todo demasiado serio y envarado. Con todo, no deben interpretarse estos reparos como que la dirección sea mala, solamente desmerece si se la compara con las más grandes (entre los “históricos” Knappertsbusch o Krauss, entre las grabaciones en estéreo Klemperer o Solti, aunque esta última está lastrada por un mediocre reparto). Ahora bien, si contamos solamente grabaciones digitales, el Holandés de Barenboim bien podría quedar como el mejor dirigido.

Si este Holandés tuviera un reparto a la altura de la dirección podría convertirse, al menos, en la gran versión digital de la obra, y aquí es donde menos convence esta grabación de Teldec. Comenzando por su protagonista, Falk Struckmann, que nos sorprende dando el salto a papeles de barítono-bajo, no puede decirse que tenga problemas vocales (quizá haya tenido una cierta ayuda del micrófono, como en general el resto del reparto), pero tampoco logra convencernos de que es un alma torturada, que vive una tragedia; su canto muchas veces parece casi indiferente. Ahora que, si de indiferencia hablamos, la palma se la lleva Jane Eaglen que vuelve a ser (como en Tannhäuser) lo peor del reparto, aunando dureza expresiva con una voz desagradablemente “tremolante”; ni rastro de la feminidad que se supone a Senta. El que cante la Balada en la tonalidad original poco importa, ya que ni transportada podría con ella.

Del resto, el nivel sube con el Daland de Holl, voz gastada pero aún aceptable y con indudable estilo wagneriano, y sobre todo con el Erik de Seiffert, el mejor del reparto, y que consigue superar aquí su buen trabajo en la grabación dirigida por Pinchas Steinberg para Naxos. De los tenores líricos wagnerianos actuales, tan sólo Ben Heppner puede superar sus resultados, aunque la grabación de este último (con resto del reparto simplemente correcto y aburrida dirección de Levine) interese casi exclusivamente por él. La veterana Felicity Palmer no destaca como Mary, aunque puede ser un aliciente el encontrarla aquí, y en cuanto a Rolando Villazón, procedente de fuera del área “alemana”, parece que Barenboim hubiera querido “premiar” al tenor con el que actualmente trabaja en la Staatsoper dándole un papel aparentemente “poco comprometido” como el del Timonel; los resultados están a la vista, cualquier grabación moderna del Holandés tiene un Timonel mucho mejor.

En resumen, hasta ahora de las grabaciones digitales del Holandés lo más interesante era el reparto de la de Sinopoli (casi ideal para estos tiempos, reconociendo el deterioro de la voz del Holandés de Weikl, que debió grabarlo años atrás, y sólo exceptuando el plano Erik de Domingo), con una dirección del veneciano ciertamente floja, aunque al menos no aburre, y la mencionada de Steinberg (muy digna sin llegar a entusiasmar, siendo su mayor problema el Holandés discretillo de voz de Alfred Muff, pero sin otros fallos graves). La presente de Barenboim no las destrona, aunque puede convertirse en la tercera en discordia: la dirección es mejor que las dos mencionadas, pero en el reparto todos los cantantes de la grabación de Sinopoli -con la única excepción de Domingo- son muy superiores a los de Barenboim, y hasta la modesta producción de Steinberg puede presentar una Senta y un Timonel mucho mejores (Haubold y Hering). Por todo ello, quizá Barenboim pueda superar en un futuro los resultados de este Holandés en su nueva etapa en EMI, sello en el que ha desembarcado después de abandonar Teldec.

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