Der Fliegende Holländer
Silins as the Dutchman in Roubaud's new staging in Orange
© Philippe Gromelle Orange 2013
The Chorégies d'Orange opened with a new production of Wagner's Fliegende Holländer,to be followed later in the season by Verdi's Ballo in Maschera, making for a double-barreled bicentenary celebration. The Wagner was directed by arena veteran Charles Roubaud, with Mikko Franck conducting the Radio France Orchestre Philharmonique in the Roman amphitheater.
It was clear from the overture that Franck knows how to skillfully mix the anecdotal moments of Weber-style Romanticism with the more probing use of leitmotifs that looks forward to the composer's later works. He drew magnificent playing from the orchestra, and his exceptionally fine reading of the work was the main pleasure of the single performance on July 12.
Roubaud is a professional and moves his forces with skill. The set was dominated by the half-ruined ship of the Dutchman, ditched center stage against the great Roman wall. This allowed the Dutchman to sing the last scene high above the public from the prow of his vessel; it also let the chorus of sailors benefit from a curious echoing acoustic from within the ship, which sounded electronically enhanced. Despite the well-meaning but conventional video effects, best seen from a distance, and the casting of the ship's ropes from dizzying heights, the limited rehearsal time and the special needs of the arena's wide stage meant that production values were inevitably compromised. The work was performed as Wagner originally intended, without an interval, gathering intensity and rising to a fine climax, earning warm applause from a near-capacity audience.
As the Dutchman, Egils Silins was magnificently costumed by Katia Duflot in washed-out ghostly finery, but he sounded more baritone than bass-baritone; the Dutchman's music lies low for him in this testing outside acoustic. Silins's warm timbre grew in confidence as the evening progressed, but he lacked dramatic magnetism for this enigmatic character. Stephen Milling's greedy Daland was immense, both physically and vocally, his bass filling the arena with a wave of stylish seafaring sound. This father seemed more than ready to entrust his daughter to the wealthy wanderer. As Senta, his Danish compatriot Ann Petersen clutched her storybook of the Dutchman possessively. Despite the exasperation of mezzo Marie-Ange Todorovitch's rumbling Mary, Petersen's Senta was a heroine ripe for sacrifice, be it imaginary or real; this was a well sung, slightly small-scale performance for the Chorégies, where volume tends to be prime. Light and girlish, Petersen made fine use of piano singing in her ballad, rising to a more forceful dramatic sound for her final sacrifice before sinking beneath the video waves of Roubaud's production. In one of Wagner's most ungrateful pieces of tenor writing, Senta's beleaguered fiancé Erik was creditably handled by tenor Endrik Wottrich, who managed his last-act aria without vocal agony. More mellifluous tenor sounds came from Steve Davislim as the lyrical and sleepy Steuermann.
STEPHEN J. MUDGE
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