Wagner’s Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) opened Friday, Feb. 13 at the Blaisdell Center. The production, originally directed by Francesca Zambello for Glimmerglass in 2013, is in stark contrast to Hawaii Opera Theatre’s production of the same opera in 2005. And I think some of the credit has to go to the MetOpera Live in HD series which has made it possible for people interested in opera to see the best there is without the cost of plane tickets and the insane ticket prices at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. But more of this later.
Friday’s performance provided a thoroughly enjoyable evening of opera–provided you didn’t get involved in trying to make logical sense of the plot. There is the young girl Senta who is obsessed with the legend of the Flying Dutchman, who for his hubris has been condemned to sail the world forever. He does get one chance every 7 years to find a faithful woman, which would presumably allow him to die in peace. Overtones of an extended “Groundhog Day.” Senta even has a portrait of the Dutchman (He had time to sit for a portrait? And she got possession of it?)
Her father, Daland, a Norwegian ship’s captain, encounters a mysterious ship, and its captain offers him lots of treasure in exchange for the hand of his daughter. Daland agrees way too quickly (audience laughed a lot at this), and takes him home to meet Senta. Women didn’t have much choice in the past–or in lots of present day orthodox societies. But Senta immediately recognizes the Dutchman and can’t wait to be alone with him.
Senta also has a hapless suitor Erik, who seems to have Senta’s consent to marriage, although he is kind of jealous of that portrait she keeps carrying around. The plot works out the tension involved in Senta’s choice between the world of her father, Erik, and Norwegian society versus her heightened romantic commitment to the tragic Dutchman.
The leading singers are excellent. Jay Hunter Morris (Erik) has sung Wagner at the Met, Ryan McKinny (the Dutchman) is scheduled for the Met, and Melody Moore (Senta) is Met-ready. The arias and duets are thrilling. Paul Whelan (Daland) has a little trouble with the lowest notes. Nathan Munson (Steersman) has a lovely ballad for his girlfriend. Maya Hoover is a little underpowered as Mary.
The orchestra begins the evening with an overture that uses the horns to simulate the storm at sea, alternating with the contrasting theme of redemption through faith. They got bravos from the audience even before the curtain went up.
The set design is fairly abstract, with metal scaffolding supporting ropes that dangle down to represent a ship’s rigging or, later, the women’s work at spinning wheels. I love new productions of old operas that bring new life to familiar music, but some may miss the black ship with red sails sliding ominously into view. Instead there is another scaffolding at the back of the stage with five writhing wraiths, presumably previous potential wives who were faithless and therefore damned.
The male chorus had a lot of activity, pulling on their ropes, drinking, and dancing some fancy hornpipes. The women braided their ropes and showed us their sexual ecstasy when they heard their men had returned from their voyage.
Many people have never been to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. So, through the years many local opera companies did the best they could to produce what they thought was grand opera without having an excellent model to follow. (I was lucky to have been born 20 minutes west of the George Washington Bridge and to have had a grandmother with a subscription to the Saturday matinees at the Met–two seats second row center in the Dress Circle.)
Now the playing field has changed. Starting on December 30, 2006, the MetOpera Live in HD series began to show live broadcasts in local movie theatres of some of the Saturday matinees at the Met. What did we learn from this? People interested in opera could now see (hear!) the best singers, see the incredible sets and costumes, and perceive what the new and exciting directors could do to make live opera live.
There was an effect on the Met as well. They learned how to film operas for TV, made sure singers could act and “move” as well as sing, and brought the chorus up to speed. No longer acceptable to just stand and sing, the chorus now earns their $200,000 annual salary (I am not joking) by acting and dancing as well as singing in 16 different languages, rehearsing and performing 6 days a week.
[Here in Honolulu these performances are shown at Dole Cannery Stadium 18. On Feb. 14 you could have seen two one-acts: Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta and Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle. That performance repeats at 6:30 PM on Wednesday, Feb. 18. Highly recommended. Tickets are $18-$24, a real bargain compared to tickets to the Met in NYC. For future performances google MetOpera and click on Live in HD. Of course we can’t see them really live here, but the performance we see was live in NYC a mere five hours before. And you can have popcorn with your opera; Granny is spinning in her grave.]
So when I read in the Star Advertiser that the chorus for HOT’s Flying Dutchman was eager to participate in the rope climbing and other stage activities, I said to myself, “Someone has been watching MetOpera Live in HD” because that sure didn’t happen in 2005! The 2015 chorus has been inspired. And I hope some of them are holdovers from the 2005 production because this time they really had fun.
Highly recommend this production!