BWW Review: Smooth Sailing for Top-Notch Cast in Zvulun's New DUTCHMAN for Atlanta Opera
Atlanta may be landlocked, but a thrilling new sailing vessel came to town on Saturday night, in the new production of Wagner's DIE FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER (THE FLYING DUTCHMAN), at the Atlanta Opera in the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. The company's General & Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun commanded the helm of the production--a particularly fitting description for an opera about the sea, how it taketh from and giveth to the men who call it home, as well as to the women who love them.
Although the DUTCHMAN is not quite at the center of "opera's greatest hits", Zvulun's new production, in an updated setting, for Atlanta (to be seen later at the Cincinnati Opera and Houston Grand Opera) makes a good case for its moving up the list. He was aided immeasurably by the stirring performance of the Atlanta Opera orchestra under Music Director/Conductor Arthur Fagen, who showed meticulous control as he was thrusting the score forward.
Zvulun succeeded not only by showing the humanity of the characters--no gods here--but also by bringing out similarities between this work's plot and characters and other, more familiar, operatic territory. Three examples come instantly to mind, with the director helping his first-rate cast of acting singers shape their performances beyond simple prototypes.
First, there was the entrance of the Dutchman--no name, just a description--and what an entrance it was, in the hands of bass-baritone Wayne Tigges. Before he's had the chance to tell us his story, we're drawn to him, with his red leather coat to match the sails of the ghostly vessel he commands and otherwise fitted out with black leather head to toe. Unlike some productions of this work, where the Dutchman is an eerie presence from the moment he walks on stage--a kind of sea-born Dracula--this one's a rock star, someone who the opera's heroine, Senta, could be obsessed by.
Tigges bursts forward to the lip of the stage like Otello making his entrance into Cyprus, filled with confidence and bravura--and the vocal chops and colors to match in his introductory "Die frist ist um"--"The time is up." Yes, his story reeks of desperation: Only once every seven years is he allowed to seek the woman who can bring him redemption and a finish to his endless wanderings. Still, he hasn't given up hope that things will be different this time.
Next, there was the equivalent of Marguerite's "Jewel Song" from FAUST (or maybe Berntein's "Glitter and Be Gay" from CANDIDE)--as the Dutchman offers Daland (the smooth veteran bass Kristinn Sigmundsson), another ship's captain, a king's ransom if he permits him stay in his home for a single night. The phantom vessel is filled with gold and jewels, which the Dutchman will gladly give for the hand of Daland's daughter, surely the woman of his redemption.
The coffers filled with treasure are brought in one after another. Who could resist? Certainly not someone as greedy as Daland, who, luckily, has a daughter, Senta, to seal the deal. It's a match made in heaven (?), since she has been obsessed by the Dutchman from the moment she saw his ship in a painting (she carries around her own model of it), without knowing he's more than a fable.
Perhaps most dramatically, Senta is sung in an exciting, go-for-broke performance by soprano Melody Moore. She's no Wagnerian Valkyrie--showing a more lyric take on the role though able to open the throttle when necessary--but a simple sea-captain's daughter who has always been an outsider, just like the Dutchman. (Even her costume is different from the other workers in Act II's spinning scene, pretty-in-pink next to the others' institutional yellow.)
She has been pursued by a good man, the hunter Erik (the stirring tenor Jay Hunter Morris in a solid performance), but he never really stood a chance against her fantasy--even before the Dutchman actually showed up at her door. Her duet with the Dutchman in Act II may offer the opera's most thrilling vocal moments, but when the phantom seaman mistakenly thinks she has betrayed him, in this production at least, she sacrifices herself in a way that tops it all, and would make Tosca proud. "Fidelity unto death," indeed.
In some ways, the opera is quite intimate: only a half-dozen major characters. Here, the "big four" were rounded out nicely by the affecting tenor of Justin Stolz as the Steuermann (Steersman) and mezzo Olivia Vote as Mary, in a reimagined version of the character usually described as Senta's old nurse but, here, her contemporary, a confidante and foreman of the women in the sail-making workshop of Act II that incudes the opera's famous Spinning song. The Opera's chorus did an outstanding job, under Chorus Master Rolando Salazar.
The updated setting of the piece--in a unit set designed by Jacob A. Climer (who also did the costumes) that easily fit the varied demands of the director--worked well for the most part, though the sail-making women of Act II's spinning scene seemed uncommonly happy in their sweat-shop conditions. (For me, the set was best for Senta's swan song and her final meeting with her beloved Dutchman at the very end of the opera, although the shifting portrait in the factory, changing from Daland, to his ship, to the Dutchman, to his ghostly vessel, was a nice touch.) The scene-setting projections of S. Katy Tucker were very effective, particularly in portraying the wrath of the sea, as was the moody lighting by Amith Chandrashaker.
Even those who might be wary of Wagner will find this DUTCHMAN moving and totally captivating. It was an exciting evening, not to be missed.
There are three more performances of this new production of Wagner's DIE FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER, tonight (the 7th) at 7:30pm; Nov. 10 at 8pm; and a 3 pm matinee on Nov. 12. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 404-881-8885. For more information and tickets, see the Atlanta Opera website, www.atlantaopera.org