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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 13, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 20
The Flying Dutchman:
A wild ride and a feast for the senses
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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The Flying Dutchman:
A wild ride and a feast for the senses

by Alice Bloch - SGN A&E Writer

SEATTLE OPERA
RICHARD WAGNER'S
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
MARION OLIVER MCCAW HALL
(Sunday Matinee cast)
May 8 (same cast on May 20)


Wagner was a young man when he wrote The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer}, and the work shows that he matured earlier as a composer than as a dramatist. In performance, this opera can become static and confusing.

The production now onstage at McCaw Hall is anything but static. It's electrifying musically and visually, if somewhat incoherent dramatically.

Rod Parke's opening-night review in this issue conveys the tremendous excitement and forward drive created by stage director Christopher Alden and conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing. The unified set designed by Allen Moyer makes it possible to perform the work as a single act, so that the musical and dramatic momentum can build without interruption.

At the Sunday matinee of opening weekend, I found all performances superb - orchestra, chorus, and cast. As the Dutchman and Senta respectively, bass-baritone Alfred Walker and soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer filled the hall with their expressive, powerful voices, and their fine acting gave emotional resonance to the strange characters they played. Tenor David Danholt, winner of the 2014 Seattle Opera International Wagner Competition, made his Seattle Opera mainstage debut in the role of Erik; he too sang beautifully, though his acting was less convincing than that of Walker and Harmer.

Bass Daniel Sumegi tore into the semi-comic role of Senta's father, Daland, with gusto. Like Rod Parke, I was enchanted by the lovely voice of tenor Colin Ainsworth as the Steersman.

I can't heap enough praise on Lang-Lessing, who deserves much of the credit for the success of this production. His vigorous but nuanced conducting balanced the large forces of Wagnerian orchestra, chorus, and soloists, and made listening to this performance a thoroughly exhilarating experience.

And the chorus! This production gives the always excellent Seattle Opera Chorus more to do than any other production I've seen, and they do it all fabulously well. The choral scenes are brilliantly staged to illustrate the rigid society of Senta's village, in which the men are sailors and the women are weavers.

Okay, so what makes the production somewhat incoherent? First, the unified set, with all its virtues, prevents the two ships (the 'normal' one with Daland as captain, and the ghostly one piloted by the Dutchman) from confronting each other. When Daland and the Dutchman sing to one another, they're both facing the audience, and the Dutchman appears to have climbed to the crow's nest of Daland's ship rather than of his own ship. When the sailor choruses on the two ships are supposed to be battling, the audience sees only one chorus singing.

Second, Alden has expanded the small role of the Steersman so that he becomes something of a Greek chorus, reacting emotionally to what's happening to the other characters. That sounds fine in principle, but in practice, he seems to be a lost character going through his own private drama, laughing maniacally at nothing and then staggering about the stage as if in pain. I fail to see what his gesticulations add to the drama.

Third, in this production, the Dutchman and Senta never really connect. The love that is supposed to redeem the Dutchman never comes to fruition, and he appears to be as alone at the end as he was at the beginning.

The character of Senta is problematic in any production of Dutchman, for she has no ambition in life but to sacrifice herself and thus release the Dutchman from his curse. As Wagner envisioned the ending of the opera, Senta kills herself by jumping into the ocean, and then she and the Dutchman ascend to heaven together. Unaccountably, Alden chose to make Senta's lot even worse, by making her the unwilling victim of her ex-boyfriend (who shoots her with the gun he's been toting through scene after scene). Even though the set made a jump into the ocean impractical, Alden could have come up with some other way for Senta to remain an active agent rather than a passive victim. Dude, what were you thinking?

If you attend this production of Dutchman (and I recommend that you do), expect your senses to be dazzled by its gorgeous music and amazing visual effects. Just don't expect the drama to make much sense.

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Translations: Seattle Transgender Film Festival -
A conversation with 'Transparent's' Alexandra Billings

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Seattle International Film Festival
OPENS MAY 19
42nd annual 25-day festival to screen 421 films
(May 19-June 12) including 28 LGBT films

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The Flying Dutchman:
A wild ride and a feast for the senses

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Where's the passion?
Shakes' R&J falls flat

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Seattle International Film Festival
recipient of grant from Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
announces African Pictures 2016

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THE SOUNDS OF SUMMER:
Eight new albums to chill out to in the coming months

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Don't miss A Hand of Talons
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At last, an exciting Dutchman!
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Alice in Chains playing hometown show in July
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