WAGNER: Der Fliegende Holländer
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WAGNER: Der Fliegende Holländer

DVD Button Brimberg, Rüütel; Schukoff, S. Youn, K. Youn, Bruns; Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Real de Madrid, Heras-Casado. Production: Ollé. Harmonia Mundi HMD 9809060 (DVD)/9809061 (Blu-ray), 144 mins., subtitles

The Grounded Dutchman

Àlex Ollé’s surprisingly sane telling of Wagner’s curious tale is fanciful but psychologically sensible.

Recordings Hollander hdl 618
Beached wails: ensemble in Madrid
© Javier Del Real
Recordings Hollander lg 618
Critics Choice Button 1015 

OPERA PRODUCTIONS by Àlex Ollé, head of the Catalan theater company La Fura dels Baus, are often big as all outdoors—too big for the camera in many cases, as in this 2016 Holländer from Teatro Real de Madrid. Don’t expect a towering, spooky phantom ship, or an extravagantly distorted one. Stormy seas erupt, however, thanks to video projections during the overture and finale, complementing the orchestral turmoil. And the Dutchman’s ghostly crew emerges in striking images, ending up frozen in place as if made of ice or marble.

The camera stays close to the principals, whose gestures are as focused and dynamic as their singing. Ollé’s props and symbols are provocative, with the female chorus carrying metal buckets (as they sing of spinning wheels); some wield cleaning brushes, others needlework. Sand is everywhere, and the women do their handiwork on a beach, most of them in headscarves. Is this a Near Eastern Dutchman?

Despite such distractions, though, what comes through on the small screen looks surprisingly like a sane telling of this curious tale, fanciful but psychologically grounded. The director treats Senta as obsessed, moody and willful—not crazed. In the duet with the Dutchman, she betrays signs of conflict, as if mindful of her vows to Erik. And when she signals her fidelity at the end by smearing her face and arms with white mud—there’s no leap into the sea or apotheosis—it feels somehow affecting and relevant.

The performance benefits greatly from the focused conducting of Pablo Heras-Casado, whose pacing and style are bracing. He approaches the music as a storyteller, not with bombast or over-refinement. Rather than the extreme contrasts so often heard (or aspired to) in Senta’s ballad, the scene moves in stages of intensity, like self-hypnosis. The conductor has the principals and chorus living their words, molding their musical lines, balancing control and abandon. Slow tempos, especially in the lovers’ duet, stay taut and dynamic, and dialogue scenes benefit from orchestral restraint. There’s much to relish in Heras-Casado’s transparent textures and subtle transitions between scenes.

The cast is led by plush bass-baritone Samuel Youn, tortured-looking in white makeup and black-circled eyes; his singing is astute and vibrant. As Senta, Ingela Brimberg is intense but not giddy; vocally, she’s natural and direct, armed with forceful top notes at the climaxes. Tenor Nikolai Schukoff, for all the star quality of some pinging tone and a macho presence, grapples awkwardly with Erik’s willowy lyrical lines. As Daland, Kwangchul Youn has a veteran’s aplomb and a deft comic sense, while Benjamin Bruns contributes a bright-voiced Steuermann. Chorus and orchestra perform like practiced Wagnerians. —David J. Baker 

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