The Dutchman returned to the Metropolitan Opera last night, in a new production by François Girard, the Canadian director. In the pit was Valery Gergiev. The Flying Dutchman is Richard Wagner’s opera of 1843. It is not known as a tenor opera, far from it. But let me begin with them.
Sergei Skorokhodov, a Russian, was our Erik (the jilted suitor of the heroine—arguably—Senta). The second he opened his mouth, in Act II, the performance took on new vibrancy. This was real opera singing. As I listened to him, I thought, “I’d like to hear his Lenski” (in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin).
The other tenor was David Portillo, an American, portraying the Steersman. His high notes had a sweet ring.
All right, how about the beginning, i.e., the very beginning? These measures require rhythmic precision and vigor. They should pin you back in your seat. Maestro Gergiev did essentially this. By the way, he is often batonless, but I noticed a short stick in his right hand.
Can you think of another stormy Wagner overture, or prelude, in D minor that requires rhythmic precision and vigor? Exactly—that to Die Walküre, the second Ring opera.
Something curious happened as the Met orchestra played the Dutchman overture. There was a noise—a loud noise—that sounded somewhat like crickets, chirping. It went on for some minutes. I suspect this was some machinery, malfunctioning. The noise subsided sometime before the overture finished.
[UPDATE: The Met informs us that the sound came from a personal panic button in a patron’s purse. She did not know how to stop it. After several minutes, another audience member took the woman’s purse and left the auditorium with it. This second woman, dubbed by one Met official “a hero,” was reseated in the parterre.]
The most electric moment of the opera, I believe [apart from the panic button], came when Act II slid into Act III. Gergiev turned on his wizardry.
There were several members of the orchestra who made outstanding contributions, among them Anton Rist, a clarinetist. Also the timpanist, Parker Lee, who was skillful and subtle. These little things, which are not so little, make a difference.
Our Dutchman was Evgeny Nikitin, the Russian bass-baritone. The Dutchman says he has a “sturdy ship.” Nikitin himself sang in sturdy fashion. Some of his notes were approximate in pitch, and there is more beauty in this role than was evidenced last night. But sturdiness, dignity, and pathos count for a lot.
Senta was a veteran German soprano making her Met debut: Anja Kampe. She was a good Senta, a correct Senta, an understanding Senta. My guess is that she had more voice to give—more volume—earlier in her career than now.
Another veteran German, Franz-Josef Selig, has ample voice to give. He was Daland, Senta’s father. I am always amazed when a bass voice, such as Selig’s, is so loud. Beautifully loud, in his case. He did some rough-and-ready singing, as Dalands do (and as Dutchmen do). But he also brought out some Schubertian songfulness in the role.
The chorus—men and women, singing separately and together—was top-notch, providing almost a foundation to the performance, I would say. The chorusmaster, Donald Palumbo, earned his bows.
And that production, by Monsieur Girard and his team (which includes David Finn, the lighting designer)? Moody. Abstract. Intelligent. There is an enormous eye, staring at the audience for long stretches. What’s that? Don’t know. A dancer portraying Senta is drowning, apparently, throughout the whole of the overture. At eleven or so minutes, that’s a long time to drown. Personally, I thought it was tedious. When it is time for the young women to spin, and sing their spinning song, they appear to be outside. Ropes—yarn?—hang from on high. In this story, Senta is supposed to gaze at a picture of the Dutchman, bewitched. In this production, there is no picture, as far as I could tell.
Which is okay. Girard & Co. are frying other fish. I once saw a Rheingold—the first Ring opera—without a rainbow bridge. That’s like a Rigoletto without a hunchback. The Met has one of those, currently.
But speaking of Rheingold: it is a long sit, at almost two and a half hours—no intermission. In this new production of The Flying Dutchman, there is no intermission either. This opera, too, is almost two and a half hours long. Is no intermission wise? I think so—for continuity’s sake, and for the sake of an early(ish) night. (Those needing a bathroom may think otherwise.)
Last night’s performance was fine. But ticket-holders for future performances are lucky, I think, because I bet those performances will be better.