Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at the Seattle Opera

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Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at the Seattle Opera. Photo: Philip Newton
Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman at the Seattle Opera. Photo: Philip Newton

Richard Wagner´s romantic legend, The Flying Dutchman, is the last title of Seattle Opera´s season. The production includes a cast of well-known Wagnerian singers led by Greer Grimsley (The Dutchman), Rebecca Nash (Senta) and Nikolai Schukoff (Erik).

If not the most popular, The Dutchman is the most frequently represented Wagnerian title. It is always worth visiting the first Wagner´s masterpiece, a torrent of musical and dramatic intensity. A condemned sailor has to wander endlessly among the seas, but once every seven years he is allowed to dock and look for the faithful love which is the only way we could be redeemed. The idea of redemption through love is a continuous subject in Wagner’s production, but in this opera it appears behind a veil of obscurity and uncertainty. Senta’s love for the sailor has a taste of madness, whilst the Dutchman never falls in love with her. He is barely merciful at the end of the opera, the unique moment when the dark character shows a spark of sincere humanity. 

As you can see, The Dutchman is not a fairy tale whatsoever. This opera needs for a strong musical team (orchestra, chorus and soloist) committed to showing the multiple facets of the score and the libretto. Obviously, the SO has made a remarkable effort to maintain the quality of the season and the result has been highly convincing. 

It´s fair to highlight the work of director, Christopher Alden, who managed to raise the most interesting points of the opera. The Dutchman, which we can see at the Seattle Opera, has the aroma of the authentic German Romanticism. The clever use of the singers of the choir, the elegance of a stage setting where everything evolves as the music in the score, or the quality of the orchestra, are key factors for the success of the production. That said, we have to recognize that the giant cube where everything takes place loses interest as the opera goes on, and the lighting (directed by Anne Militello) becomes somehow aggressive near the end of the show. The numerous and unexpected changes in the color of the lights do not seem to respond to a coherent dramatic motivation. On the other hand, the final scene, as it is performed by the SO, introduces some ideas that conflict with the music and the original intention of Wagner. Senta does not obtain her salvation and perishes before the indifference of her people while The Dutchman ascends poetically to some place unknown. Those are probably are the weakest points of the show. 

Wagner's The Flying Dutchman at the Seattle Opera. Photo: Philip Newton
Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman at the Seattle Opera. Photo: Philip Newton

In the vocal plan, the SO features a well-balanced cast of Wagnerian singers, led by the strong stage presence of bass-baritone Greer Grimsley (The Dutchman). His performance combined his rich tunes with a sensitive style. Mr. Grimsley was able to show a hint of humanity in the midst of the spectral aura that surrounds the character. His counterpart was dramatic soprano Rebecca Nash, who played a delusional but determined Senta. Her domain of her instrument was surprising. She managed to make the role believable despite the mentioned mess at the end of the opera. Bass-baritone Daniel Sumegi stood out for his dramatic instinct as Daland and tenor Nikolai Schukoff (Erik) proved once again that Wagner is compatible with vocal tenderness. Definitely, it was a good choice to include such a good tenor in the cast. 

The SO chorus had to deal with a demanding show including choreographed moments and vocally challenging scenes. They worked hard to accomplish the fine result we enjoyed at the McCall Hall. German Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing made the show work musically, defying the poor acoustics of the venue. 

It was another success of the SO, which seemed ready to embark on a new season with the satisfaction of leaving nice work behind. 

Carlos J Lopez