Met’s “Dutchman” sets sail in sturdy revival

April 27, 2010
By George Loomis

Juha Uusitalo as the Dutchman and Deborah Voigt as Senta. Photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera.

Wagner has had a bit of a respite at the Metropolitan Opera this season, a transitional period between old and new productions of the Ring cycle. Last year the company said farewell to Otto Schenk’s staging, so cherished by traditionalists, and next year it embarks upon a new Ring with the first two installments of a production by Robert Lepage.

A Met season without at least minimal Wagnerian representation would be unthinkable, and with little more than three weeks to go in the current season, the company offered just that by reviving August Everding’s 1992 production of the Der fliegende Holländer, probably the least daunting opera of the entire Wagner canon to put on stage.

It is no cakewalk though, and the current cast held promise by offering two notable singers in portrayals new to the Met in the opera’s most crucial roles: those of the Dutch seafarer condemned to wander the seas ad infinitum and of Senta, the woman determined to break his curse through the power of her love.

At the season premiere on Friday evening, both Juha Uusitalo and Deborah Voigt gave strongly sung performances that were sometimes gripping but fell short of expectations. The Dutchman is Uusitalo’s calling card, which he has taken to most of the world’s major opera houses. In prior encounters with his portrayal (at La Scala and in a Boston Symphony concert performance conducted by James Levine) I warmed to a voice of substantial power that was also capable of expressing the anguish engendered by the Dutchman’s ordeal. Here, though, while still sounding robust and projecting an imposing character overall, Uusitalo seemed more limited in his range of vocal colors and the voice tended to sound more grainy than resonant.

Voigt’s Senta was also something of a mixed blessing. The voice fills the hall impressively but here it had an edginess that detracted from its luster and occasionally sounded forced. There were some exciting movements, such as Senta’s final declaration of faithfulness before throwing herself into the sea. Voigt’s Senta was thoughtfully conceived and nicely detailed, but it lacked that quality of wildness, born of obsession with the Dutchman of legend, that animates the best Sentas.

Hans-Peter König has a classic rich and sumptuous German bass and seemed determined to let you know it with every note he sang as Daland, Senta’s father. Stephen Gould, in his Met debut, sang Senta’s erstwhile lover Erik with a firm and gleaming heldentenor voice that has understandably won him attention elsewhere. It is possible to sing the role with greater lyricism, but this was nevertheless a notable debut. Also making positive contributions were Russell Thomas as the Steersman and Wendy White as Mary.

Stephen Pickover oversaw the revival of the production, which is innocuously updated but thoroughly traditional. One would be tempted to call the room in which the girls do their spinning a Norwegian sweatshop were it not obviously so blasted cold.

The conductor Kazushi Ono kept the performance sailing along in shipshape fashion, despite a few bloopers from the brass. He observed the unfortunate traditional cuts at the end of Act 2 and in the Act 3 trio, which are favored by squeamish Wagnerians who don’t like it when the master’s music sounds like Donizetti. As is now standard at the Met, he also played the opera in its continuous format without intermissions, which makes for an extremely long sit. Since Wagner also sanctioned breaks for intermissions, why not compromise and just take one after Act 1?

Der fliegende Holländer runs through May 13.

One Response to “Met’s “Dutchman” sets sail in sturdy revival”

  1. Posted Apr 30, 2010 at 4:25 am by matthew gurewitsch

    Those “girls” (ahem!) in Act 2… What the heck are they doing? Not spinning, that’s for sure. Sewing new sails?