Bayreuth, watch and learn.

Hessisches Staatstheater Wiesbaden
Saturday 7 September 2013
Richard Wagner: Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman)

(c) Lena Obst / Staatstheater Wiesbaden

Yes, I confess: of all Wagner operas I like The Flying Dutchman best. It is admittedly one of his ‘easier’ – and definitely shorter – works, but for me it’s just got the right amount of everything. Only a few main characters, a gripping, almost simple storyline with both the romantic and the adventurous element and of course Wagner’s brilliant music (it’s his 200th anniversary this year, you might have noticed). Needless to say I was thrilled when I learned I had won two front row tickets to the premiere of The Flying Dutchman at Staatstheater Wiesbaden, which was also the opening of the season.

The expectations were high from the start: director and production designer Michiel Dijkema, who had already successfully staged Rossini’s Barber of Seville (2011) and Smetana’s Bartered Bride (2013) in Wiesbaden, knows how to amaze audiences of all tastes and ages. Wiesbaden opera goers, who tend to prefer the traditionalist interpretation of opera, were rejoicing over his witty, colourful yet contemporary ideas. Upon seeing the rehearsal photos on the programme, many of his admirers have to suppress a frown though, I’m sure. Video installations? High visibility sailor vests? Grey chairs on a black stage? But the audience is friendly, they’re quite convinced that Dijkema won’t let them down – or will he?

Right at the beginning of the opera, when Senta’s father Daland and his ship crew lay anchor in a bay, an impressive, modern looking ship rolls in, supported by breaking waves on video screen. This stands in a crass contrast to the Dutchman’s ship, which is superbly and manually painted on a huge canvas / wood collage, and here we can see what Dijkema is aiming for: a visual difference between the time of the Dutchman, who is damned to sail the seas since many hundred years, and the present of Daland and Senta, who are represented by more modern costumes and requisites. Essentially it is this logical move that consoles the traditionalists in the audience; a compromise that carefully offers something for both them and the progressives.

(c) Lena Obst / Staatstheater Wiesbaden

Being accompanied by conductor Zsolt Hamar’s superb orchestra, Daland (Petri Lindroos) impresses with a profound belcanto bass in the first act, which might be a tad too quiet in the lower register but is otherwise – and ironically contrary to his modern environment – very classical and melodious. Lindroos’s acting is jovial and convincing, the latter also applying to the Dutchman (Bastiaan Everink). He, on the opposite, conveys his tragic fate with an unconvential, strong yet never forced baritone voice. His face almost always bears the same, suffering frowns, only towards the end – when he meets his supposed saviour Senta – he loosens up a little. The Dutchman’s crew, even though only consisting of statists, is terrifically masked and costumed: designer Claudia Damm did a splendid job here. The second act introduces Senta – the moony young captain’s daughter with a strong resemblance to Jack Sparrow– (Maida Hundeling) who dramatically stands out when compared to all her fellow girlfriends who are eager for their sailor husbands to come home. She manages to mediate the image of the poor Dutchman who has to sail the world seas forever until he finds his true love and his curse is broken with an absolutely brilliant interpretation of The Ballad of the Flying Dutchman. It’s crystal clear that this woman knows what she wants, and she certainly doesn’t want to stay with her admirer Erik (Arnold Bezuyen), even though he has a beautiful, slightly throaty voice. Hundeling’s soprano’s intensity is comparable to that of Everink : Senta’s and the Dutchman’s duet at the end of act two is – thanks to the singers’ outstanding voices – an intense moment of pure love and wonder towards each other. Both they and the audience realise that the Dutchman Senta has always dreamed of has entered the real world: likewise, the painted portrait on the screen turns slowly into a moving image of the Dutchman himself.

Up until now everything has been normal – very nice, but still normal. But Dijkema wouldn’t be Dijkema if he hadn’t planned a surprising element in his opera. If you found the lowering stage frame in his Barber of Seville exciting, you will love his Dutchman solution. What it’s like, you have to see for yourself, but I can promise that 3D movies are nothing compared to what awaits you in act three. The finale is brilliantly staged, dramatic and very concentrated on the characters, thus the applause is deafening and Michiel Dijkema’s and everyone else’s work is acknowledged with standing ovations. Why Bayreuth has to make the same mistake over and over again I really don’t get: opera can and should be interesting, thrilling, fascinating without being forcibly provocative and I believe Dijkema has proven this more than once.

There’s just one thing left to say: get yourself a ticket and go see this sensational opera, especially if you don’t think Wagner is for you – it’s totally worth it and will change your mind. Promise!

You’ll find upcoming performances of Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in Wiesbaden plus any other information here: http://www.staatstheater-wiesbaden.de/

My thanks for the absolutely brilliant seats go to hr2-kultur.

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