Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman is a strange tale of a mythical haunted sailor doomed to stay alive at sea with his dead sailors. His one hope is being able to come ashore once every seven years to look for a good woman who will love him unconditionally and commit herself to him forever. This is the only thing that can redeem him. But woe to anyone who might betray this trust. The Dutchman warns that such a person would end up in eternal damnation.
Evidently there was some ancient sailors’ folklore about such a man, and Wagner made it his own, masterly constructing story, libretto and music that would elevate it into a mysterious and fascinating operatic work.
The artists at the LA Opera, in a Nikolaus Lehnhoff production, have interpreted that work to further enhance the thrills both visual and musical that bring out its unique qualities. (This production originated with Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera.) German Lehnhoff is known for his expertise on the work of Wagner. Director Daniel Dooner has worked in collaboration with him in the past.
Kudos must first be given to Julie Makerov the alternate for the lead Senta, who evidently was given the nod to go onstage a mere 20 minutes before curtain. (Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos was slated to do the role.) This was her Makerov’s LA Opera debut. She had performed the role before to great acclaim in Canada, and lucky for us she reclaimed every note of her role. Her voice is lovely and dramatic, high and seemed exactly right. Even her flaming red hair, among a sea of steel grey and black costumes and sets, was an added bonus. We don’t know what happened to scheduled Matos, but it is hard to imagine the piece reaching as great a height with anyone else.
Senta is the angelic, true young woman who has always been fascinated with the saga of the lone sailor and has fallen madly in love with him, throwing herself on the floor like some star-idolizing teen, before she even meets him. His silhouette looms large over the set, and she is completely mesmerized by him and feels it is her fate to save him. She is barely able to endure the sweet words and advances of her previous beau Erik, played ardently by Corey Bix.
Senta’s actions are the least stylized in a production where every move is choreographed. Her costume is the most plain, in a world where sailors are dressed like Darth Vader and women who spin cloth wear metallic and lighted hoop skirts, and spin their bodies with excitement. And yet she is the most electric on stage.
Her counterpart the Dutchman, played by Icelandic baritone Tomas Tomasson, is also thrilling to hear. In his black hat and robe and whitened face, he is sufficiently creepy and yet charismatic at the same time. His voice carries the wonderful music home. For both of the main characters, very still and for me the most poignant and thrilling moment, is the scene where the Dutchman puts his hands on her shoulders. Her voice elevates to heights of fervor and passion in an operatic trill, which is the most beautiful type of scream.
The characters are more deeply explored than in most opera, and fascinating. Of course one does have to put up with the old notions of women being passive tools for fathers and husbands who dominate them, with little fulfillment of their own. But such is the history of the western world.
The chorus under director Grant Gershon is amazing. In this production there are many members, and they have a chance to do much singing and dancing. Choreographer Denni Sayers’ whimsical movements of the spinners and sailor-ghosts are wonderful. No one skips a beat, and in my mind the production is nearly perfect.
Sets are large and mythic, created by Raimund Bauer. Costume Designer Andrea Schmidt-Futterer, goes all the way to create a look that is oddly other-worldly.
The orchestra under our own James Conlon is in top form, especially the big horns as they create the wild of the sea and storm. Conlon is considered one of the top experts on Wagner. The opening seemed a tad slow up until Senta’s appearance, when everything to flowed together so perfectly.
Image of Julie Makerov by Steve Cohn/LAOpera
Georja Umano is an actor and animal advocate.
The FLYING DUTCHMAN by Richard Wagner
Production from Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera. Production new to Los Angeles.
Sun 3/17/13 2:00PM: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Thurs 3/21/13 7:30PM: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Sun 3/24/13 2:00PM: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
Wed 3/27/13 7:30PM: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion