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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Opera Review: Shipping Up to Boston

Boston Lyric Opera mounts The Flying Dutchman.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Alison Oakes as Senta in Der Fliegende Holländer.
Photo by Eric Antoniou © 2013 Boston Lyric Opera.
Boston Lyric Opera sailed boldly into treacherous waters this week with Der Fliegende Holländer ("The Flying Dutchman") at the Shubert Theater. This is the company's first Wagner production in two decades. and a rare chance for Bostonians to experience a fully-staged performance of one of that composer's major operas.

Adding salt to the dish: music director David Angus' decision to present the work in its original intended setting (Scotland) and to perform the 1841 critical edition of the score, using an orchestra featuring narrow-bore trumpets and period horns. (Wagner revised Dutchman four times in his life, and most performances today use an "assembly" score put together in 1896 thirteen years after the composer's death.)

Dutchman is the story of a phantasmagorical ship that makes port once every seven years so its captain can go a-courtin'. In Michael Cavanagh's deliberatly ambiguous production (using clever, spare sets b John Conklin and gorgeous digital ocean waves by Seaghan McKay) it's left to the viewer to decide whether the Dutchman (Alfred Walker) is really visiting land, or if it's all the neurotic dream of Senta (Allison Oakes) the daughter of a ships-captain who has been obsessed with the Dutchman and his legend all her life.

Ms. Oakes is the vocal star of this show, with a bright, keening soprano that soared over the roar and crash of the orchestra. She was a perfect picture of wild-eyed obsession, from her performance of the Ballad of the Dutchman to the character's final suicide. It was here that the decision to use Wagner's original "hard" ending paid dividends, ringing the curtain down on tragedy, not redemption.

Alfred Walker's intimidating stage presence and weighty bass-baritone were an apt fit for the title character. From the start of "Die frist ist um," Mr. Walker had a touch of the otherworldly with his long penetrating stares and resonant notes. Although one wasn't sure if his character was real, there was a touching despair to his confrontations with Senta, and real heartbreak in the final trio, sung and not shouted.

Senta's huntsman boyfriend ("George" in this version) is an ungrateful role, the earthly thread keeping her from flying after her beloved ghost captain. Tenor Chad Shelton displayed a fine, ringing instrument with a warm timbre and impressive, full high notes. As Senta's father Donald, Gregory Frank alternated between fatherly warmth and sheer venality as he planned to sell off his daughter for a handful of trinkets.

Although Wagner's opera requires great soloists, it is the crash-and-pound of the orchestra and the rumbustuous sea shanties of the chorus that make this show fly. Members of the BLO chorus, clad in rubber rainboots, stomped about on metal frameworks indicating the hills of their village or the deck of a ship. The Dutchman's "ghost chorus" was delivered from a catwalk high in the flies. creating an appropriate "spatial" effect. The women's chorus delivered the Spinning Scene beautifully, although they were gutting fish instead of spinning thread.

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