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Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer at the Bayreuth Festival

Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer - John Lundgren - Bayreuth Festival (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Richard Wagner Der fliegende Holländer; John Lundgren, Ricarda Merbeth, Tomislav Mužek, Peter Rose, Rainer Trost dir:Jan Philipp Gloger, cond: Axel Kober; Bayreuth Festival, German Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 12 August 2018 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Bayreuth Festival’s stunning production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer leaves the Green Hill on a high

Wagner’s first mature opera written in 1841, Der fliegende Holländer - directed with great flair and imagination by the German theatre director, Jan Philipp Gloger - received its final showing at this year’s Bayreuth Festival (seen 12 August 2018) having debuted in 2012 [the 2013 revival is available on DVD]. Conducted by Axel Kober the production featured John Lundgren as the Dutchman, Ricarda Merbeth as Senta, Tomislav Mužek as Erik and Peter Rose as Daland.

Mr Gloger’s quite daring in his approach to the work and I found not only his production to be dramatically convincing but also totally convincing within Wagner’s world, too. Not frightened to take chances, Mr Gloger boldly shifted the scenario from a ‘nautical’ setting to a ‘business’ environment and also took on board Wagner’s socialist dislike of money, materialism and basic greed as the keynote of his production which turned the opera into a critique of capitalism.

For instance, the ‘sea’ is represented as a worldwide web of international money markets and the Dutchman - a Master of the Universe, to borrow a Tom Wolfe phrase - is happy as Larry making money off the backs of others but cursed in sailing the High Seas eternally while hooked into the money markets that control him. He can only redeem himself by a woman’s love, something that’s non-material.

Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer - Ricarda Merbeth, Peter Rose, John Lundgren - Bayreuth Festival (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
The arrival of the Dutchman on land projected an haunting image as he emerged as if coming from the bowels of an ocean-liner but was, in fact, making his way through a city’s financial district dressed as a smart booted-and-suited businessman pulling a black-wheelie suitcase stashed full of bank notes (hopefully euros!) steering an uneven course through an ‘ocean’ of greed, corruption and opportunism. Surrounded by people on the make, a scantily-dressed whore tried her luck but to no advantage. She was not on his agenda!

But Daland - no longer a sea-captain but an ambitious small-time factory-owner producing ‘ready-to-use’ table-top desk-fans - was. That well-loved British bass, Peter Rose, delivered a strong and entertaining reading of this pivotal role while Rainer Trost in the role of the Steersman (now a fussy-minded management accountant) delivered a masterful account of the sailor's love-song while on watch holed up with Daland in a small dinghy ‘beached’ in an urban landscape, the only hint of any nautical life.

Never one to miss a trick, Daland - whose business interests were a mere spit in the ocean compared to the global dealings of the Dutchman - is quick off the mark in tantalising and baiting the stranger to the attractiveness of his daughter Senta who wants for something better in life than slaving away in her father’s factory.

The Dutchman was well portrayed by John Lundgren (he’s no stranger to the role, though) while Ricarda Merbeth triumphed as Senta, her voice employing an extraordinary range of vocal and dramatic colour to produce a glowing and moving account of The Ballad, a highlight of the opera.

And in another highlight, The Monologue, one witnesses the Dutchman cutting into his arm but, of course, doesn’t bleed thus illustrating his immortality while his body scars hint, perhaps, at attempted suicide. Interestingly, Mr Gloger recorded his scars ‘black’ while Senta - sexually repressed, unsettled and dissatisfied - fills her time building from cardboard boxes from her father’s factory an effigy of the Dutchman (daubed with ‘black’ blood) hoping for release from the boredom that imprisons here.

And the moving scene in which Senta and the Dutchman meet - Daland’s seen prancing about like an oriental marriage-broker - was breathtaking to the extreme and met by total silence and nervous excitement that only a live performance can possibly yield.

Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer - - Bayreuth Festival (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
The love between them eventually releases the Dutchman from his dreaded curse enabling him to bleed normally. It also gave Senta - who portrayed the great ‘socialist hope’ inasmuch as society can only be built on love rather than from cold money-grabbing practices - the inspiration (the life-blood as it were) to ditch her current woeful position. And the wings she adorns is symbolic of that new-found freedom.

A robotic-type workforce replaced the usual team of pretty traditional spinners in Daland’s factory and were tastefully attired in light-blue trouser uniforms with matching caps tastefully designed by Karin Jud. It added a new dimension to their big number, The Spinning Chorus, as they worked systematically under the careful eye of Mary (Senta’s nurse - but now the factory-floor supervisor) the role sung with esteemed authority by Christa Mayer while Croatian-born tenor, Tomislav Mužek, proved a strong and stubborn Erik and his confrontation with Senta about her infatuation with the Dutchman was so powerfully sung and acted by Mr Mužek that it underlined his deep love and affection for her but to no avail, of course.

As in all of Wagner's operas the chorus - the backbone of the whole show - plays such an important and pivotal role and one has to shout out loud the praises of chorus-master, Eberhard Friedrich, while Axel Kober was equally impressive in the pit energising his players with all the necessary fire and power needed to capture the mood and passion of Wagner’s compelling score.

Martin Eidenberger also conjured up some excellent video sequences and Christof Hetzer created a complicated set heavily laced with strips of bright-white neon lighting highlighting a digitalised-number board continually on the go echoing, perhaps, a traders’ floor of a stock exchange or a time-clock counting the days, hours and seconds left for the Dutchman before his seven-year exile of solitude comes to an end.

Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer - Bayreuth Festival (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
But when the end comes for the chosen couple, true Wagnerian redemption manifests itself into a memento of them in an original fan-based china-coated statuette. Such is their fame! And yet another business initiative of Daland.

DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER
Conductor: Axel Kober
Director: Jan Philipp Gloger
Stage design: Christof Hetzer
Costumes: Karin Jud
Lighting: Urs Schönebaum
Video: Martin Eidenberger
Dramaturg: Sophie Becker
Chorus Master: Eberhard Friedrich
Daland: Peter Rose
Senta: Ricarda Merbeth
Erik: Tomislav Mužek
Mary: Christa Mayer
Der Steuermann: Rainer Trost
Der Holländer: John Lundgren

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Prom 42: the first Estonian orchestra at the Proms - Paavo Järvi and the Estonian Festival Orchestra (★★★★½)  - concert review
  • A strong message on anti-semitism: Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Bayreuth Festival  (★★★★★) - opera review
  • Edward Lambert's new Lorca-inspired chamber opera at Tête à Tête (★★½)  - Opera review
  • Still relevant & still controversial: Alex Mills' Dear Marie Stopes at the Wellcome Collection (★★★★½)  - Opera review
  • Politics, music and tonality: Keith Burstein and The Prometheus Revolution - interview
  • Small scale challenge: studio performance of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor from Fulham Opera (★★★½)  - opera review
  • Calen-O: songs from the North of Ireland from Carolyn Dobbin & Iain Burnside (★★★★½) - CD review
  • Prom 34: rare Barber & Copland in Juanjo Mena's leave-taking at the BBC Proms (★★★★) - concert review
  • Musical memoir: Tom Smail's Blue Electric at Tête à Tête  (★★★) - opera review
  • An uneasy mix: politics, spirituality and melody in Keith Burstein's new opera at Grimeborn  (★★★) - opera review
  • Jonas Kaufmann as Wagner’s Parsifal at the Munich Opera Festival (★★★★) - opera review
  • Piecing together the new opera Dear Marie Stopes  - guest post from composer Alex Mills
  • The classical saxophone: Huw Wiggin's Reflections (★★★★★) - CD review
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