Heather and Cecily review Der fliegende Holländer!

On Friday evening, ATC’s New York correspondent and I enjoyed opening night of the Met’s Der fliegende Holländer, starring Deborah Voigt. We’ve decided to review it jointly, as a back-and-forth dialogue between us. Neither of us had seen Hollander before, and we loved talking about it as a work as well as about this specific performance.

CECILY: One thing that struck me is how much Senta at the beginning of the opera acts like a modern-day Twilight fan. She’s obsessed with the Dutchman’s portrait, likes to hear his story over and over again, is kinda turned on by his supernatural dark broodiness, and has fantasies of “rescuing” him from his dark fate. She’s an interesting character, isn’t she? Chaste but quivering.

HEATHER:  She is interesting for sure. I love when she sings about the legend of the Dutchman to the chorus of woman. The song is so strongly voiced…but then she swoons at the end. She is a contradiction! And *sort* of chaste.  Though it is Wagner, there was a bit of humour in the suggestion of her sexual fascination with the Dutchman. Musically, he is far sexier than her suitor Erik. His arias are blandly traditional rather than the stormily Romantic music of the Dutchman.

CECILY: You can really hear foretastes of the Ring Cycle in the Dutchman’s music, although not the sexy parts. The Dutchman was clad a bit like a Byronic hero in this particular production.

HEATHER: The Dutchman was definitely Byronic. I’m glad the Dutchman looked more like Heathcliff than Dracula. He was pretty pale though. I thought the supernatural element was done well–present, but not excessive.  I like the scene with the chorus–who are trying to persuade the sailors to party with them–and the ghostly crew of the Flying Dutchman. There was quite the visual and musical contrast between the ordinary and the unworldly in this exchange.

CECILY: Yes, the dueling choruses were a highlight for me, and it was a very visually effective (though our view was obstructed a bit from standing room). Did you find that Senta’s death moment was fluffed a bit, visually? These days I’m starting to think that after over a century of leaping Toscas, we’d be interested in something a bit more interesting than just “the jump”.

HEATHER: Fluffed up how? I agree that leaping to one’s death seems derivative (so why bother emphasizing it on stage). Tosca will always do it better! (i.e. in Italian). In some way I didn’t quite expect Senta to do it though. She’s totally obsessed with the Dutchman, but I think a tiny possibility was presented that she would choose the more staid Erik. His songs were nice.

CECILY: Mostly I was just wondering if there’s a better way to execute the final jump than the Climb To Precipice/Make Emotional Appeal/Carefully Jump Behind Set drill – something a bit more unexpected. And it’s interesting that Senta is sort of stringing Erik along – trying hard to placate him and not quite admitting, in her first scene, that she’d leave him for the Dutchman.

HEATHER: You’re right. It was kind of a boring way to do it. Not my favourite demise of a heroine either. Nothing will ever beat Adriana Lecouvreur’s death; she keeled over after sniffing poisoned violets. I think you’re right about Senta’s treatment of Erik. She is a bit conflicted there. She’s pretty set on the Dutchman though (and from first glance) What did you think of that first scene between the Dutchman and Senta?

CECILY: I like the tension in that scene – the long, long interval where no words are exchanged. Not a lot of composers would have had the guts to attempt something like that. And in this production, the lack of motion carried on for an almost agonizingly long length of time. I’d be interested to see if, in other productions, Senta and the Dutchman ever move toward each other or touch, or if they usually take the “stillness” approach.

HEATHER: A brave move indeed. Silence can be profound or awkward. I didn’t hear any giggles though. It was an arresting moment. Their lack of contact (and extended silence) seemed to suggest containment–they are each still profoundly wrapped up in the idea rather than the reality of their beloved. It is the opposite of the Erik/Senta dynamic, which is much more familiar. I generally prefer higher male voices, but I was really taken with Juha Uusital. I’ve rarely enjoyed a bass-baritone so much.

CECILY: Yes, both Uusital and Voigt were marvelous. There’s an interesting brightness in Voigt’s voice that I like – it allows her to be both powerful and girlish when the music requires it. All in all, an excellent first experience with the Dutchman – I’m looking forward to comparing this one to the COC’s version coming up this May!

2 comments

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