Monday, May 16, 2016

Seattle Opera deliver's Alden's powerful interpretation of "The Flying Dutchman"

Photo credit: Philip Newton
With Greer Grimsley leading the way in the title role of “The Flying Dutchman,” Seattle Opera presented a powerful performance Christopher Alden’s interpretation of Wagner’s opera at McCaw Hall on Saturday, May 7th. Set in the 1920s, this “Dutchman” offered an introspective slant in which the outsiders were pitted against an insular community, and everyone went off kilter, including the conformist townspeople, who become possessed after trying to communicate with the Dutchman’s ghostly ship.

In the end, Senta (Rebecca Nash) redeemed the ill-fated Dutchman, but not in the usual way. Instead of jumping into the sea, she was shot to death by the jealous Erik (Nikolai Schukoff), who couldn’t bear the idea of losing her. She died while holding a painting of the Dutchman as he slowly ascended a circular stairwell, clutching her wedding veil, on his way to the great beyond.

Christopher Alden’s revisionist interpretation is a bit sharper than the version I saw in 2007 at Portland Opera in which the Dutchman and Senta walked backwards across the front of the stage for some mysterious symbolic reason. In the Seattle production, the Steersman (Colin Ainsworth) walked comatose across the front of the stage at the very end, apparently because he too was in love with Senta. Daland (Daniel Sumegi) was totally immobilized at the idea of the fantastic wealth he would receive from the Dutchman after his daughter married him. Mary (Luretta Bybee) found herself clinging to the legend of the Dutchman even against her own reasoning. The townspeople wore armbands, suggesting Nazi-group think, and Erik had a brown outfit that suggested a Nazi-follower. The Dutchman, after casting aside his coat showed that he was wearing prisoner’s strips.

Rebecca Nash (Senta) and Greer Grimsley (The Dutchman). Photo credit: Philip Newton
The scenery, designed by Allen Moyer for The Canadian Opera Company, placed almost all of the action inside a huge room that was tilted from left to right. One end of the room was dominated by a huge wheel. When the Steersman (Colin Ainsworth) or The Dutchman gripped the wheel, it served to suggest a ship. After a smaller wheel suspended from the ceiling was connected to the large wheel, they worked together to suggest a factory where the women labored.

Grimsley’s powerful voice roared, alternating between anguish and hope as the Dutchman sought to become free of the curse of wandering the seas. Nash created a driven and determined Senta. Her singing of Senta’s ballad was stunning. Each time it returned to the next verse, she hit the high notes squarely in the center. At the very end of the opera, with her final words “Hier steh’ ich – true dir bis zum Tod!” (“Here I am, true to you till death!”) were electrifying. It was if she vocally threw herself into the sea.
Nikolai Schukoff (Erik). Photo credit: Philip Newton
 Another thrilling voice was that of Schukoff as Erik. He sang with impeccable diction, emotion, terrific tone quality, and power to spare. It would be difficult to find a better Erik anywhere. Sumegi made us feel a little sorry for Daland, because he was made helpless by the riches of the Dutchman.

Luretta Bybee’s Mary was less a disciplinarian and more like someone who could not control her inner passion for the Dutchman. If she had been younger, she probably would have battled Senta for the right to be the Dutchman’s wife. Colin Ainsworth sang the role of The Steersman with total passion.

The Seattle Opera Chorus, prepared by John Keene, sounded fabulous. Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing urged the orchestra ardently, and the result was an excellent sound all night long.

No comments: