• Opera Review: ‘Flying Dutchman’ sturdy and surreal
    By Jim Lowe
     | November 12,2012
    Yves Renaud photo

    Soprano Maida Hundeling is Senta and bass-baritone Thomas Gazheli is the Dutchman in Opéra de Montréal’s production of “The Flying Dutchman.”

    “The Flying Dutchman” is an early work by the great creator of “music dramas,” Richard Wagner, earnestly espousing redemption through love — one of Wagner’s favorite themes.

    Opéra de Montréal opened a stylish and well-sung production of “The Flying Dutchman,” that benefits from a particularly effective performance by its female star.

    Wagner wrote his own libretto based on Heinrich Heine’s retelling of the sea legend, however Heine’s version was satirical whereas Wagner’s was terribly earnest. The Flying Dutchman, “Traveling Jew” in the Heine version, is doomed to travel the seas endlessly — unless he can find a bride who will remain true to death.

    The opera begins on the seas with Capt. Deland trying to return home. He is intercepted by a “ghost ship” and a mysterious stranger, who offers him riches for the hand of his daughter. The greedy Deland quickly agrees, though his daughter Senta already has a fiancé, the impecunious hunter Erik.

    Now, here’s where it gets strange: Senta has been in love with the Dutchman ever since she saw his portrait (much earlier) and that’s why she hasn’t married Erik. So, when the Dutchman arrives, Senta’s thrilled, and Erik is furious. All sorts of confusion ensue, a death, and a happy ending — sort of.

    It probably worked much better as a satire. Still, Wagner begins to exhibit some of the greatness that is to come. His ability to inflect music with intense drama is second to none.

    Montreal’s production was a stylish one, with a particularly arresting set and costumes — which will not be described so as not to spoil it — by Allen Moyer. Lighting by Anne Militello enhanced the surreal quality of the production, and the stage direction by Christopher Alden for Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company, remounted here by Marilyn Gronsdal, was definitely surreal but largely effective.

    The thrill of the production was the performance by German soprano Maida Hundeling as Senta. Without ever losing her lyrical quality, she was able to range from dark and powerful to delicate — all beautifully.

    The other outstanding singer was German bass Reinhard Hagen who, as Daland, resonated with rich power. German bass-baritone Thomas Gazheli sang well, but lacked the presence to bring the Dutchman to the forefront. German tenor Endrik Wottrich had a powerful voice but was unable to deliver the part’s sensitive lyricism.

    Canadian conductor Keri-Lyn Wilson directed the Orchestre Métropolitain in a sturdy performance, always sensitive to the singers, that got better and better throughout. The chorus, directed by Claude Webster, sounded great and was fun to watch.

    Finally, at only two hours and 35 minutes, Montreal’s “The Flying Dutchman” is a quite enjoyable introduction to Wagner.

    Opéra de Montréal

    Opéra de Montréal presents Richard Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” at 7:30 on Nov. 10, 13, 15 and 17 at Place des Arts Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier in Montreal, fully staged with orchestra and sung in the original German with English and French super-titles. Tickets start at $50 Canadian; call 514-985-2258, or go online to www.operademontreal.com.

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