March 22, 2013 | by Robert F. Adams
Enchantingly gothic LA Opera launched their production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman with a stage that was severely raked and held a mirrored shiny surface, resembling a slope flushed with seawater. On March 17th, in a performance that rocked the house, musically speaking. Director Daniel Dooner brought this production to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with the costumes and scenic elements that originated from the Lyric Opera of Chicago. This year is Wagner’s 200th anniversary and opera companies worldwide are pulling together performances of his oeuvre. One of his earliest successes, Flying Dutchman originally premiered in 1843 at the Semperoper in Dresden. Dutchman provided Wagner a springboard for the development of more elaborate chromatic compositional interweaving seen in his later works including Tristan und Isolde and Der Ring des Nibelungen. The work contains phantasmagorical romantic elements, combined with influences from the Faust legend. The story features a classic Wagnerian protagonist who is an outsider to land-bound society, seeking redemption through love. His ship that he journeys upon, crewed by dead sailors, is an existential exploration of cosmic yearning.
Onstage, dramatic entrances were made through a smoky revolving propeller, At the center, a square open pit was situated, suggesting an open grave, with soaring iron ribs on either side of the proscenium, evoking a dark hallway in a sea-bound vessel. The vertical architecture was not only effective, but etched a mood of inescapability for the characters. A horizontal bridge moved up and down from the top wings, and projections onto the scrim of wave imagery combined with an impossibly tall shadow of the Dutchman imaginatively interwove mystical notes. The scenic team of Nikolaus Lehnhoff, set designer Raimun Bauer, and lighting by Duane Schuler evoked shadows and highlights, creating darkly powerful scenes, representing the worlds of the living and the dead simultaneously. Costumer Andrea Schmidt-Futterer outfitted the choristers with space-carnival regalia, offering an otherworldly array of circus-like evocations including reflective rings wrapped around skirts of the female spinners.
Icelandic baritone Tómas Tómasson presented a fearsome Dutchman, elegantly defining the mythic sea-faring wanderer with a rich baritone voice, presiding over the dramatic domain. Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos finally got to make her LA Opera debut at this matinee performance, and though a bit shrill at the outset, delivered an emotionally portrayal as the savior-heroine, Senta. In the supporting roles tenor Corey Bix was a sturdy presence as the betrayed and land-bound huntsman Erik and Ronnita Nicole Miller, as Senta’s nurse, was convincing as an admonishing force. Bass James Creswell was richly precise as the greedy Daland, doing his best with an unusual wig and makeup, bringing to mind Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s film version of Dracula. The male choristers were vocally resplendent, and their delightfully strange dances kept things interesting for the two-hour plus performance, performed straight through without intermissions.
This production of Dutchman was over too soon, a successfully minimal staging of the work, which emphasized the score. Conductor James Conlon continues to be a riveting interpreter of Wagner’s scores, having led The Ring Cycle followed by Lohengrin, both produced in 2010. His interpretation of Dutchman was dynamically absorbing, with the wind, brass, and strings providing ample complexity to provide a mesmerizing sonic experience. As an orchestra, the players proved a rapturous force, creating a compelling stab at Germanic romanticism.
Photo by: Robert Millard