Monday, July 23, 2012

Richard Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer / The Flying Dutchman (Savonlinna Opera Festival)

DE 1843. Romantische Oper in three acts.
Libretto by Richard Wagner, after Heinrich Heine´s Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski Book 1, Chapters VI and VII (1834).
First performed in Dresden, Königlich Sächsisches Hoftheater, 2 January, 1843.

Conductor: Philippe Auguin
Stage director:  Ilkka Bäckman
Stage design and costumes:  Juhani Pirskanen
Lighting designer: Claude Naville
Chorus master: Matti Hyökki
Make-up and hair: Sirpa Heiskanen

Daland, a Norwegian captain / Matti Salminen
Senta, his daughter, soprano / Amber Wagner
Erik, a huntsman, tenor / Corey Bix
Mary, Senta´s nurse, alto / Marit Sauramo
The Steersman, tenor / Jussi Myllys
The Dutchman, baritone / Juha Uusitalo (1. act), Thomas Hall (2. and 3. acts)

Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra
Savonlinna Opera Festival Choir

E-surtitles in Finnish and English. Visited in Olavinlinna, Savonlinna on 23 July 2012.

Savonlinnan Oopperajuhlat 5.7.-4.8.2012. Sata vuotta, sata tarinaa - A Hundred Years, a Hundred Stories. The festival catalogue and centenary book. Edited by Helena Kontiainen. Savonlinna Opera Festival, Savonlinna 2012.

Parallel listening during the week: Richard Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer. EMI Classics 2 cd, 2010. A recording from 1968 by BBC Chorus and New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Otto Klemperer with Theo Adam (Dutchman), Anja Silja (Senta), and Martti Talvela (Daland). EMI Classics 2 cd with a bonus disc with the libretto in four languages, 2010.

The festival website: "The salty tang of life on board in the safe haven of a Norwegian fjord, catchy arias and stirring choruses: such is the recipe for an opera – the first of many masterpieces – composed by the young Richard Wagner on a mighty wave of inspiration. One of the Opera Festival’s greatest productions ever since it first came ashore in Savonlinna, The Flying Dutchman has also made many highly-acclaimed tours abroad."

"This candid, down-to-earth version of the story of the Dutch sea captain doomed to sail the seven seas forever, and of Senta, passionately in love with the character in an ancient legend, and its inevitable tragic ending never fails to enchant all who see it, first-timers and seasoned Wagnerians alike."

Ilmo Pokkinen in the introduction to the festival's libretto edition: "In 1841 Wagner put the finishing touches to the first of his three early masterpieces, the romantic opera The Flying Dutchman. The story of the legendary seafarer condemned to sail for ever unless he could find salvation in the love of a faithful woman called forth an echo in the composer's soul. His interest was further enhanced by a journey from Riga via Pillau to London to escape his creditors during which the little schooner got caught in a storm off the coast of Norway and sought refuge in a fjord. Wagner thus had personal experience of the cruel sea and the rough men that sailed it. The incorporation of this personal experience was a major new element of the Flying Dutchman, giving the ballad a fresh and salty tang. It was in The Flying Dutchman that Wagner first discovered his true voice as a composer. The Dutchman took him one step nearer to the dramatically unified opera in which the borders between arias and ensembles cease to exist. He had not yet arrived at his pure Leitmotiv technique, but it was already possible to observe the shape of things to come. The motifs connected with the sea, the curse, and the redemption can be heard throughout the work, making the structure of the opera more coherent." (Ilmo Pokkinen)

Savonlinna Opera Festival is celebrating its centenary with premieres of new operas and highlights of its greatest successes. Their centenary book is an especially valuable publication with facts, evaluations, and testimonies. The festival started as a labour of love and continues in a spirit of great inspiration and passion.

I am not an opera-goer but I do listen to opera regularly. I now saw The Flying Dutchman for the first time, but I was familiar with the music. The Flying Dutchman belongs to the greatest successes in the history of the festival.

The medieval Olavinlinna castle is a formidable setting for any opera. The stage has special characteristics and challenges. The format is like huge CinemaScope with little depth of field. Most of the action takes place horizontally on the stage with its stairs, elevated passages and doorways. The acoustics is excellent. Even when the orchestra is playing at full force and the choir is singing at the top of their voices it is easy to follow the individual voices of the vocalists singing to the 2000 piece audience.

The big name drawing cards were Juha Uusitalo as the Dutchman and Matti Salminen as Daland, but Juha Uusitalo had to withdraw with his flu after the first act, and Thomas Hall took his place. Matti Salminen has been singing Daland's great aria all his life, and he did fine again.

But the revelation of the performance was Amber Wagner as Senta, and Amber Wagner's passionate and delicate interpretation of the ballad of Senta ("Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an, blutrot die Segel, schwarz der Mast?") was a highlight of the evening.

The choir was magnificent. The dynamics of the opera - the changes from lyrical and elegiac passages to powerful storm and crowd scenes - can really only be appreciated in a live performance.

Film-related: John Williams may have been inspired in his Star Wars score by Richard Wagner and particularly The Flying Dutchman. There are references to the story in various movies, especially in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, and more recently in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. Murnau's Nosferatu may have been inspired by this opera in the mighty way in which the ghost ship is portrayed and also in the conclusion: the young woman sacrifices her life in a Liebestod, releasing the undead finally from his curse (the conclusion of Bram Stoker's novel is quite different). Today Tim Burton would be an interesting choice to direct a film adaptation. Christopher Lee would be an ideal Dutchman, although the bass role belongs to Daland.

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