NEW YORK CITY: Der Fliegende Holländer
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In Review > North America

Der Fliegende Holländer

The Metropolitan Opera

In Review Met Dutchman hdl 717
Amber Wagner and Michael Volle, Senta and the Dutchman at the Met
© Johan Elbers

THE MET'S FAMILIAR production of Der Fliegende Holländer returned to the repertoire on April 25 after a seven-year absence. That time interval, somewhat eerily, echoes the fate of the opera’s hero, who returns to port every seven years to make another less-than-confident bid for redemption. August Everding’s 1989 Holländer, not unlike the Dutchman himself, just goes on and on.

It fell to conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin to invigorate a staging that’s nearly as old as he is. The Met’s new music director designate attacked the eleven-minute overture with a firm grasp and a palpable delight in its dramatic and atmospheric riches. Pauses and meditative passages counted just as effectively as musical storms in his confident reading, and there was an intriguing subtext in the overarching progression from violence to lyricism; even the fiery conclusion had an underlying legato component that hinted at possible resolution.

As the performance advanced, various musical highlights helped the viewer look past the ghost of Everding’s superannuated production—its vague lumps of architecture and rigging (designed by Hans Schavernoch) and its tendency to leave characters adrift with no visible connection to one another. Nézet-Séguin’s early scenes displayed his zest for detail, contrasting moods and orchestral transparency; certain impressionistic touches seemed to anticipate Debussy. The Dutchman’s entrance soliloquy was skillfully shaped and flexible, helping baritone Michael Volle to shine in the more lyrical phrases of his role and the upper ranges of his voice. Volle’s slow duet with American soprano Amber Wagner’s Senta was another splendid example of persuasive lyricism.

At times, Volle sounded like a consummate lieder artist, and Nézet-Séguin seemed to be indulging a tendency to detailed, soft-tinted effects. A bit more Wagnerian heft and force would have been welcome, especially in the singer’s lower register. This Dutchman reflected soulful torment without suggesting heroic struggle or outrage, let alone the panache to attract Senta.

The other male singers were understated as well. Franz-Josef Selig, as the greedy, comic Daland, seemed to reserve his fire for the climactic outbursts, where his tone was often vibrant. Tenor AJ Glueckert made his Met debut as Erik, singing the two cantabile arias with pliant line and an attractive timbre, but elsewhere he sometimes struggled against the orchestra. Ben Bliss was skillful in the brief role of the Steersman.

There was a considerable shift in scale in Act II with the arrival of Amber Wagner as Senta. Her strong, layered sound can be a little blunt, and she grew harsh on the several high Bs toward the end. But, true to her name, she has Wagnerian format, a fearless, sometimes thrilling attack and the promise of secure balance between monumental and intimate effects.

In the opera’s only other female role, the cherished Verdian mezzo Dolora Zajick was memorably disapproving as Mary, thanks especially to her resonant chest tones. 

The opera was played without intermission, as often occurs today. In this case, however, the absence of a break did not bring a gain in momentum. Nézet-Séguin’s probing, sensitive pacing, and his accommodation of singers, may have been too much of a good thing, at least for this early Wagner thriller that depends on dispatch and vigor. 

The orchestra’s celebrated versatility was on full display, testifying to strong rapport with the conductor. But the company’s chorus was equally effective, especially the robust-toned male choristers, who portrayed both the mortal and the ghostly ships’ crews with gusto. They exemplified the impetus and resonance for an ideal Holländer.  —David J. Baker 

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