Der fliegende Holländer

Leif Segerstam
Savonlinna Opera Festival Chorus and Orchestra
Date/Location
1989
Olavinlinna Castle Savonlinna
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Cast
DalandMatti Salminen
SentaHildegard Behrens
ErikRaimo Sirkiä
MaryAnita Välkki
Der Steuermann DalandsJorma Silvasti
Der HolländerFranz Grundheber
Stage directorIlkka Bäckman
Set designerJuhani Pirskanen
TV directorAarno Cronvall
Gallery
Reviews
MusicWeb-International.com

When the soprano Aino Ackté visited the castle at Olavinlinna nearly a hundred years ago, she was struck by its romantic setting on an outcrop of rocks, surrounded by ocean. To this day the Savonlinna Opera Festival is held in the courtyard of the fortified medieval castle. An atmospheric venue indeed, for Der fliegende Holländer, an opera which has become a Savonlinna speciality, performed at nearly every festival. This DVD is a live recording of the celebrated Behrens/Grundheber/Salminen performance of 1989, conducted by Leif Segerstam, directed by Ilkka Bäckmann, a Savonlinna perennial. It was directed for video by Aarno Cronvall.

The simplicity of this film reflects the Savonlinna ethos. It is unpretentious, almost to the point of seeming superficially casual. Musically and artistically, however, the standards are very high indeed. The film starts with a panorama of the castle, from the sky, panning down to the sea surface, which is actually quite calm, rather than the storm-tossed maelstrom suggested in the music. But that’s a minor quibble. The film’s regular use of the image of the sea takes on a surreal, timeless quality, an unchanging backdrop to overtures and preludes. On second and third viewings, it has an almost hypnotic effect, holding the visual narrative together. Segerstam gets very focused playing from the orchestra, underlining the quintessential Wagner ebb and flow of dramatic and lyrical. It’s an interesting irony to see scenes set on ships inside a building surrounded by the sea.

The maritime choreography of the Norwegian crew will have been done more stylishly many times, but the slightly bedraggled chorus here had the unassuming look of real workmen. Their singing was good – not Covent Garden chorus standards but appropriately rough and ready. Matti Salminen as Daland, barks out orders to his seamen but beneath the surface, he’s a hapless dreamer, thinking that good times come easy. Wagner wrote the role of Steersman as a contrast: the Steersman does nothing but sleep and dream, even when a storm crashes around him while he’s supposed to be on watch. Even when a ghostly ship moors alongside, he won’t give up his dreams. In this production the dynamic between the two is strong. Salminen plays Daland as a well rounded character, a businessman with an eye for the main chance – his sidelong glances, eyes narrowing to slits, may give the appearance of a canny bargainer, but he’s transparent. Jorma Silvastri, as the Steersman, is so young and fresh looking here that the makeup and beard he wears for the character also seem an attempt to make him appear fiercer than he really is. It’s quite engaging.

In masterly contrast to both of them is the Dutchman himself. He has no illusions. He’s desperate to find a woman who can break the curse upon him. In the long dialogue between Daland and the Dutchman, Franz Grundheber is imperturbable. The two burly basses square off, Daland wrapping himself in the Dutchman’s plastic cloak as if it were a treasure. The treasure in the chest, incidentally, really does look tacky on film – perhaps it’s symbolic, but the audience would not have been able to see it close up, as we do on film.

Act Two opens with the female chorus. They are spinning, using authentic looking spinning machines. Their clothes are also home-spun, and vegetable dyed, a charming detail. The camera panned on individual members of the chorus and not just the conventionally pretty ones, either, but on a woman with a glorious smile – such a contrast to the neurotic Senta. The women were robust looking, and active, again in contrast to the wan heroine, doing nothing but dream of the legend. Anita Vällki sang a very distinctive Mary. Dressed in sophisticated velvet and exquisitely maquillée, her striking looks and voice provided yet another contrast to Senta. It was disconcerting to see Hildegard Behrens as Senta, her face tense and etched with anxiety, less childishly youthful than Salminen as her father. Perhaps too, that is a telling detail about the dynamics of the plot. Nonetheless, the moment Behrens started to sing, all was transformed. Her voice is glorious, full of passion and intensity, rich and mysterious. The scene in which she and the Dutchman lock eyes on each other is so rapt with fervour that the plot line is totally believable.

Erik the huntsman, Raimo Sirkiä, doesn’t stand a chance. Grundheber’s acting may seem impassive, but his voice conveys his heartbreak and disappointment. Nonetheless, Senta has chosen her dream and leaps over the parapet to demonstrate her loyalty unto death. Interestingly, while Wagner suggested the music end with an image of Senta and the Dutchman together, this film shows those left behind, like Erik and Mary, looking stunned.

The film has a general “home made” feel, with very basic titles and text. Camera shots are held for a long time and somewhat repetitive. The ungroomed, homely chorus members (of both sexes) would never do at the Met. Nonetheless, I felt this was an advantage. Slick and flashy means little when singing is as good as this. The down to earth honesty of the production is refreshing, putting all emphasis unselfconsciously on the music. The live audience, spared from the longueurs of the film, must have had a memorable evening, which thanks to this release, we, too, can enjoy.

Anne Ozorio

Mostly Opera

The production is very traditional and the costumes, traditional as well, looks rather stupid. Still-video projections are used liberally, for scene changes as well as for the final scene. As the shooting is done very close-up, it is impossible to get an overall impression of the sets and/or the geography in relation to the audience, which we do not see at any point, omitting the “curtain” calls as well. Furthermore, the usual intensity of a live performances seems to have eluded this production completely.

I am convinced it must have been amazing to be present at one of these performances, however on DVD it is an entirely forgettable event.

Best of the singers, unsurprisingly, is Matti Salminen as Daland. After all, it was his wish to perform at the Savonlinna Opera Festival that kept him away from Bayreuth from the end-80´s and onwards. Franz Grundheber, in his prime, is competent, but no more as the Dutchman, which also goes for Hildegard Behrens as Senta. Those with special affinities for these two performers may rate their achievements in this production significantly higher than I do, though. Which goes for Raimo Sirkiä´s Erik as well. All rather finely accompanied by a quite engaged Leif Segerstam.

The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):

Franz Grundheber: 3-4
Hildegard Behrens: 4
Matti Salminen: 5
Raimo Sirkiä: 3

Ilkka Bäckmann´s production: 2

Leif Segerstam: 4

Overall impression: 2

Classic Voice

Ripreso da una rappresentazione teatrale del 1989 nel cortile del magnifico castello cinquecentesco di Savonlinna, in Finlandia, questo Olandese era già noto nella videodiscografia e rispunta adesso in un dvd di ottima confezione la cui curiosità precipua riposa nella ideazione scenica pensata in pro degli spettatori casalinghi: un abile mixage di teatro e cinema in cui, ancor più che la mano del regista teatrale Ilkka Bäckman, va segnalata (e non sempre lodata) quella del regista televisivo Aarno Cronvall, abile a dar unità spettacolare a recitazione in scena e collocazione esterna in uníopera che indubbiamente si presta per il suo forte appello visionario a operazione siffatta. Ma, dicevo, non tutto vi è da accettare a scatola chiusa, perché un conto è la narrazione in teatro e un altro quella filmica, per seducente che appaia; e, per di più, non sempre motivata pare l’insistenza sui primi piani, che rompono la inevitabile (e come tale accettata) convenzionalità del filo narrativo e non offrono mai una visione d’insieme di quel che avviene sulla scena. Così, se affascinante è il percorso dell’ouverture, solcata, è il caso di dirlo, da onde marine di tenebrosa avvolgenza, e se le rocciose mura del castello fanno da immaginifico sfondo a una vicenda come pocíaltre notturna, appena torniamo sulla piattaforma scenica il contrasto fra sovrimpressione e convenzione denota qualche frattura di credibilità. E buon per lo stage director del video che i due interpreti vocali maggiori siano in grado di forare l’alea del grottesco che spesso inguaia cantanti inidonei a far valere la loro immagine da presso; pericolo qui scongiurato dall’intelligenza e dalla classe di Hildegarde Behrens e Franz Grundheber, impeccabili protagonisti. La Behrens si cala splendidamente in Senta, a dispetto di un volume non propriamente stratosferico: tenuta dei fiati, controllo della dinamica, estensione, seduzione espressiva erano davvero a prova díerrore in quell’ormai lontano 1989; e Grundheber compone col suo Olandese un ritratto da maudit indimenticabile per forza, penetrazione d’accento e profilo scenico. Ma va detto che l’insieme dell’esecuzione è, se non pari all’eccezionalità delle due prime parti, comunque e sempre di bel livello: a partire dall’ottimo coro del Festival e dalla direzione di Leif Segerstam, capace di dar giusto peso sonoro a un amalgama strumentale forse non eccelso e tuttavia assai degno come quello della compagine finlandese. Per le parti di contorno di un’opera così spietatamente suddivisa tra Nuovo e Antico, il Festival di Savonlinna s’è concesso anche il lusso di offrire nella parte di Daland il suo più illustre campione nativo, un Matti Salminen colossale per voce e presenza; senza dimenticare l’apporto di un decoroso tenore quale l’ignoto (a noi) Raimo Sirkiä, che è Erik, e dei due personaggi gregari del Marinaio e di Mary, molto ben cantati da Jorma Silvasti e Anita Välkki. Va aggiunto che Segerstam, o chi per lui nell’équipe finlandese, ha optato per la versione in origine pensata da Wagner in atto unico senza intervalli; opzione per mio conto fondatissima, in quanto riconosce allíOlandese la sua fisionomia di ballata romantica che effettua la sua course à l’abîme senza concedersi inutili tregue.

Aldo Nicastro

Corliss Phillabaum

Musically this live performance from Finland’s Savonlinna Festival is very strong. Conductor Leif Segerstam offers a richly dramatic approach to the score with plenty of drive when appropriate but he is also willing to allow time for the more introspective passages. Both visually and vocally baritone Franz Grundheber and soprano Hildegard Behrens are powerful musically and dramatically as the Dutchman and Senta. Both artists bring a concentrated intensity to their roles, even when physically motionless, their faces and eyes communicate the depths of their feelings and the closeup photography takes full advantage of this strength. Bass Matti Salminen contributes a richly sung and wonderfully avaricious Daland, and tenor Jorma Silvasti makes something memorable of the supporting role of the Steersman.

Unfortunately video director Aarno Cronvall provides a distracting framework for this fine production by trying to hide the fact that it is a theatre performance. He never gives us a full view of the settings, much less any indication of their placement in the courtyard of Olavinlinna Castle or of the presence of an audience. Segerstam is shown conducting from time to time, but we never see an orchestra. Orchestral transitions are illustrated with repetitious images of a drawing of the Dutchman’s ship overlaid with equally repetitious suggestions of waves. The artificiality of this futile attempt to deny the fact that this is a live performance is self-defeating and ultimately distracting. The recorded sound is vivid if somewhat bass-shy and video quality is good. Even with this misguided video approach some of the power of the performance comes through, but it could have been so much better!

Michael Richter

PRODUCTION

Exciting live staging in an ancient Finnish castle (Olavinlinna). Simple but imaginative elements convert the stone walls to each of the settings required. Unfortunately, some stage effects are so abstruse as to distract and confuse, notably the beckoning(?), rowing(?) arms extending from the side of the Holländer’s ship. Costumes are generally bright and conventional and movement is well considered. Again, a jarring element is introduced when two stocking-masked and body-stockinged members of the Holländer’s crew bring a chest of jewels to Daland.

PERFORMANCES

Segerstam leads a driven if uninspired reading with somewhat smaller forces than might be expected. The chorus is exceptional in spirit and movement. The orchestra is generally good but suffers more errors than would be needed to prove that the performance was live. Grundhaber is dry and declamatory, conveying his commitment to the rôle. Salminen is excellent. Behrens’ voice catches surprisingly often and one could wish her younger, but she is very right in the part. Sirkiä is adequate but Välkki is not (the critical middle range is missing). Silvasti is almost ideal vocally and dramatically.

TECHNICAL COMMENTS

Video quality is excellent though it lacks sparkle. Audio is outstanding, even imaging the stage at times to show performance movement audibly as well as visually. Unfortunately, video production is excruciating. Closeups dominate, inexplicably using shots of the singers posed and silent when they are singing. A shot of the ocean interposes at every break in the action, sometimes by itself and sometimes overlaid on a tour of the castle. A drawing of a wind-battered ship is often overlaid on the roiling ocean or used alone. (For example, each time the Steuermann calls: “Wer da?,” the drawing is interjected.) The gimmickry is painful on first viewing and intolerable when repeated. Fortunately, one learns when to close one’s eyes.The performance is too good to be adulterated after the fact; if a straight taping is available, it should be released.

Rating
(6/10)
User Rating
(3/5)
Media Type/Label
NVC, Warner
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Technical Specifications
720×480, 2191 kbit/s, 2.1 GByte, 4:3 (MPEG-4)
DD 2.0 (DVD)
Remarks
Performance from the Savonlinna Opera Festival