Der fliegende Holländer

Pablo Heras-Casado
Coro y Orquesta Titulares del Teatro Real
20/23 December 2016
Teatro Real Madrid
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Daland Kwangchul Youn
Senta Ingela Brimberg
Erik Nikolai Schukoff
Mary Kai Rüütel
Der Steuermann Dalands Benjamin Bruns
Der Holländer Samuel Youn
Stage director Àlex Ollé (La fura dels Baus)
Set designer Alfons Flores
TV director Stéphane Vérité
Opera News

The Grounded Dutchman

Àlex Ollé’s surprisingly sane telling of Wagner’s curious tale is fanciful but psychologically sensible.

OPERA PRODUCTIONS by Àlex Ollé, head of the Catalan theater company La Fura dels Baus, are often big as all outdoors—too big for the camera in many cases, as in this 2016 Holländer from Teatro Real de Madrid. Don’t expect a towering, spooky phantom ship, or an extravagantly distorted one. Stormy seas erupt, however, thanks to video projections during the overture and finale, complementing the orchestral turmoil. And the Dutchman’s ghostly crew emerges in striking images, ending up frozen in place as if made of ice or marble.

The camera stays close to the principals, whose gestures are as focused and dynamic as their singing. Ollé’s props and symbols are provocative, with the female chorus carrying metal buckets (as they sing of spinning wheels); some wield cleaning brushes, others needlework. Sand is everywhere, and the women do their handiwork on a beach, most of them in headscarves. Is this a Near Eastern Dutchman?

Despite such distractions, though, what comes through on the small screen looks surprisingly like a sane telling of this curious tale, fanciful but psychologically grounded. The director treats Senta as obsessed, moody and willful—not crazed. In the duet with the Dutchman, she betrays signs of conflict, as if mindful of her vows to Erik. And when she signals her fidelity at the end by smearing her face and arms with white mud—there’s no leap into the sea or apotheosis—it feels somehow affecting and relevant.

The performance benefits greatly from the focused conducting of Pablo Heras-Casado, whose pacing and style are bracing. He approaches the music as a storyteller, not with bombast or over-refinement. Rather than the extreme contrasts so often heard (or aspired to) in Senta’s ballad, the scene moves in stages of intensity, like self-hypnosis. The conductor has the principals and chorus living their words, molding their musical lines, balancing control and abandon. Slow tempos, especially in the lovers’ duet, stay taut and dynamic, and dialogue scenes benefit from orchestral restraint. There’s much to relish in Heras-Casado’s transparent textures and subtle transitions between scenes.

The cast is led by plush bass-baritone Samuel Youn, tortured-looking in white makeup and black-circled eyes; his singing is astute and vibrant. As Senta, Ingela Brimberg is intense but not giddy; vocally, she’s natural and direct, armed with forceful top notes at the climaxes. Tenor Nikolai Schukoff, for all the star quality of some pinging tone and a macho presence, grapples awkwardly with Erik’s willowy lyrical lines. As Daland, Kwangchul Youn has a veteran’s aplomb and a deft comic sense, while Benjamin Bruns contributes a bright-voiced Steuermann. Chorus and orchestra perform like practiced Wagnerians.

David J. Baker | JUNE 2018 — VOL. 82, NO. 12


In a short booklet essay, the director of this Fliegende Holländer, Àlex Ollé, tells us that he and his creative team constantly asked themselves the same question: ‘Could a story like this happen today?’ In trying to answer it, he goes on, they came across the Bangladeshi port of Chittagong, where old ships are taken or dumped, to be dismantled or to rot.

This forms the basis for his staging and explains some of the production’s more unexpected touches. The Spinning Chorus features a group of women on a dirty beach in headdresses sorting through junk. Erik is a mercenary soldier; we’re in a place of poverty and bartering, where one might actually imagine a sea captain giving away his daughter for the right price.

And as you’d expect from a Fura dels Baus show, there’s an impressive scenic grandeur on display. Video projections conjure up the storm-tossed sea in the Overture (although the camera direction spends most of it concentrating on the pit) as well the ghostly crew that clambers up the prow of the vast vessel that appears at the start of Act 1 – gradually taken apart as the evening progresses. The sandy stage floor, variously lit, suggests the bottom of the ocean as much as a beach, and the Dutchman’s arrival is marked by the descent of an enormous anchor from the flies.

Indeed, the fact that he seems often to be singing underground makes one think as much of Alberich as Wagner’s ghostly aquatic wanderer. This might also have something to do with Samuel Youn’s singing of the role: always at a high pressure, and with a characterisation that, rather than offering tragic nobility, tends to range between snarling anger and borderline insanity. One notices more than ever, then, the shifts in the music’s idiom between fateful Weltschmerz and the jollier exchanges with Daland, here sung by the ever-reliable Kwangchul Youn.

There’s nevertheless an undeniable intensity in Samuel Youn’s exchanges with Ingela Brimberg’s Senta, who fills out her phrases impressively. Nikolai Schukoff is excellent as Erik, Benjamin Bruns is an eloquent Steersman and Kai Rüütel a pleasingly rich-voiced Mary. Pablo Heras-Casado conducts a swift, efficient account of the score, played well enough by the Madrid orchestra, but doesn’t really plumb the depths. Nor, ultimately, does the production. On its own terms, though, it’s an impressive and engaging show.

Hugo Shirley | Issue 01/2018

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Harmonia Mundi
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