Alberta Jubilee Auditorium
Title Page for the Text Book used at
Liszt's 1853 Weimar Staging of "The Flying Dutchman"
stormy life was intertwined with an opera theme, early on: in 1839, after two
years, he lost his Riga post as Kapellmeister, had accumulated debts and fled
across the sea to London. The schooner Tetis braved wild storms and had
to land twice at the Norwegian shore. These impressions did not leave Wagner. In
his memory, they became intertwined with Heine’s material from Memoiren
des Herren von Schnabelewopski, which
he had come across in Riga in 1837/8. In them, he also read up on the saga of
the Dutch captain Bernard Fokke, who, when unsuccessfully trying to
navigate the Cape of Good Hope, cursed God and nature and, as a result, was
doomed to sail the seas until Judgment Day. Having arrived in Paris, in 1841,
Wagner wrote the original version of his opera and placed the action into
Scotland, but later changed it to Norway. Paris
was not interested in his work, so that, in 1832, he took it back with him to
Dresden. There, it was premiered in
1843. In 1901, Wagner’s son
Siegfried made it part of the standard repertoire of the Bayreuth Festival.
What can we, as post-modern skeptics, still gain from an opera in which the
young heroine Senta sacrifices herself out of love in order to save the
Saturday’s premier night, Edmonton Opera’s new production at the
Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium gave me an opportunity to try to find that
out, for myself. While the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, under the baton
of John Keenan, quickly found itself in the overture, the stage setting
already offered me something worth pondering:
Fascinated, singer Susan
Marie Pierson, playing Senta, approached a portrait of the Flying
Dutchman that was hung on the stage curtain.
It reminded me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
simple yet sophisticated stage set was an effective part of the overall concept
of Brian Deedrick’s production that oriented itself at German
expressionist-style films from the early 20th century.
A rectangle box that ascended from right to left served as main stage,
while beneath it, an equally ascending prison-like cellar served as scene of
action for the members of the Flying Dutchman’s ghost ship.
Singers, choir members and supernumeraries were clad in drab workmen’s
clothing of the 1920’s, which heightened the „expressionist“ overall
the fist act, Senta’s father Daland and the Flying Dutchman meet at the
seashore near Sandwike when their ships seek refuge from a raging sea storm.
The Dutchman can convince the greedy Daland of his wealth and even
persuade him to promise him the hand of his daughter Senta.
three male soloists, Jason Howard as Dutchman, Marc Embree as Daland and Scott
Scully as the Steuermann, and the male members of the Edmonton Opera Choir
were vocally convincing. The only
exception to this was when Daland, standing on the spiral staircase, had to sing
bent down and, due to the acoustics of the „Jube“, lost in clarity.
the first act, Wagner offers a break, while the second and third act are
connected with an entr’acte. In the second act, the village girls are
awaiting the return of their sailors, while Senta continues to moon over the
Flying Dutchman’s portrait. She
appears to be very familiar with his tragic fate.
Senta also has to stave of the advances of her long-time admirer, the
hunter Erik [a character Wagner had added to the story], sung by Marc Deaton.
However, it is not surprising that, when her father and the Dutchman
arrive, she is already so favorably disposed towards the stranger that she
agrees to marry him, which also suits her greedy and lecherous father’s
wishes. Preparation for next
day’s wedding feast are underway.
act offers all female choir members an opportunity to shine both vocally and
also in their visual performance. The
„spinning scene“ partly reminded me of the choreographic means of expression
of Ausdruckstanz but, from its theme, of Hauptmann’s play Die Weber.
Entirely in line with this theme was Emilia Boteva as Frau Mary in
her interaction with the girls and Senta [rather as a factory supervisor than as
a nursemaid]. Susan Marie Pierson’s Senta was vocally convincing,
the entr’acte, the third act offers the solution to the plot:
The attempt of Daland's crew to invite the Dutchman’s crew to the
festivities ends with their eerie, other-worldly reply.
Senta again flees from the advances of Erik who, in vain, tries to remind
her of her alleged pledge of fidelity to her.
The Dutchman, overhearing this, sees his hopes of salvation crushed and
tries to convince the seemingly unfaithful Senta from eternal damnation by
telling her of his fate and by freeing her from her promise to him.
Senta tries to keep the Dutchman from returning to his ship, swears that
she will eternally remain faithful to him and chooses voluntary death
[traditionally by jumping into the sea from a cliff, so that the Flying Dutchman
is saved, with the result of him and his ghost ship dissolving into thin air].
the last part of this production, the excellent vocal presence of the main
characters [Howard as Dutchman and and Pierson as Senta] becomes even more
intensified. The festive village scenes eerily reminded me of Oskar Maria
Graf’s pre-Third Reich „village novels“, in sharp contrast to the end of
the plot that here, very wisely, was only outlined so that it leaves ample room
to the audience’s imagination: Senta
removes her bridal veil, dives down into the crowd and is lifted up by it,
„apparently dead“, and the legs of the Flying Dutchman, already high up on
the spiral staircase, slowly move and vanish in upward direction.
simple-minded folks might take this symbolic outline at face value and, in their
minds, exchange it with the traditional take of the opera plot.
However, if we realize that Deedrick, with his well thought-through take,
returns that to us which Wagner has taken from us, namely the freedom to
think for ourselves, we can all the more appreciate the efforts of the
singers, musicians and the conductor. Wagner
takes much more from them, since they can certainly not afford the luxury of failing
to use their ability to think for themselves.
That they used their thinking as well as the director did become
evident in this stimulating premiere night.