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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.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Der Fliegende Holländer

Yannick Nézet-Séguin steers into Wagnerian waters.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Out to sea: Michael Volle as the Flying Dutchman.
Photo by Richard Termine © 2017 Richard Termine courtesy the Metropolitan Opera.
Yannick Nézet-Séguin became the future of the Metropolitan Opera when he accepted the role of music director-to-be at the opera house. Here, audiences can hear him cnduct Wagner at the big house for the first time, as he dips into the stormy waters of Der Fliegende Holländer.

What is Der Fliegende Holländer?
Known in English as The Flying Dutchman, this is the earliest of Wagner's thirteen operas to be considered "canon", in other words "officially" accepted by the composer and part of the standard repertory. It is a salty tale of damnation, suicide and redemption on the high seas with some of the composer's most vivid orchestral music.

What's the plot?
Dutchman is the story of a doomed sea captain (the title character) who is forced to sail the seas of the world until he is redeemed by a woman "faithful unto death." He encounters a wealthy ship
s captain Daland and makes arrangements to marry his daughter Senta, sight unseen. In the climax of the opera, Senta hurls herself off a cliff, redeeming the Dutchman and proving to be the first in a long line of suicidal Wagnerian heroines.

What's the music like?
A famous conductor once said that opening the score of Der Fliegende Holländer. is to literally feel the salt spray upon one's face. Wagner used all of his powers of orchestration to illustrate the raging, heaving sea with a noble horn call symbolizing the Dutchman himself, while a descending "redemption" theme symbolizes the self-sacrificing Senta.

Who's in it?
Michael Völle takes on the heroic title role. Amber Wagner (no relation to the composer) is Senta. Tenor Jay Hunter Morris, last heard in the Ring as Siegfried, has an easier assignment as the gormless Erik. Franz Josef-Selig is Daland. And as we mentioned at the top of the article, Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts.

How's the production
Most stagings of Dutchman feature enormous naval vessels, an appropriately salty environment for the action on shore, and a big cliff for the final scene. The Met's frost-rimed staging remains traditional and satisfying.

Why should I see it?
Because of its short length and concise story, this is often considered a good "starter" opera if you're just taking your first excursion into Wagner's music. Properly sung, it is a thrilling evening of theater. Also, Wagnerians will want to hear bass-baritone Michael Völle, the Met's future Wotan and Hans Sachs, take on a major role at the house.

When does it open?
Der Fliegende Holländer sets sail on April 25.

Where can I get tickets?
Tickets  are available through MetOpera.Org or by calling the box office at (212) 362-6000. You can save service fees by going to the box office in person at the Met itself, located at 30 Lincoln Center Plaza. Hours: Monday to Saturday: 10am-8pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Which recording should I buy?
Here are two safe recommendations, drawn from the recent Superconductor Audio Guide to Der Fliegende Holländer.

New Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Otto Klemperer (EMI/WBC 1968)
This is worth hearing because it is the only studio recording of a Wagner opera made by the legendary Otto Klemperer, here three years from the end of his long career. He whips up a furious overture, has a strong Dutchman in Theo Adam and the return of Anja Silja's passionate, haunted Senta under studio conditions. The choral singing is top-flight as is Martti Talvela's Daland.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Christoph von Dohnányi (Decca, 1991)
This digital set is a fine example of why the Vienna Philharmonic is such a great Wagner orchestra. Christoph von Dohnányi summons a fearsome performance from his Dutchman, the under-rated bass-baritone Robert Hale. Hildegard Behrens is Senta in one of her great studio performances. Kurt Rydl is a gruff Daland.

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