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Wagner: Der Fliegende Hollander; Dietsch: Le Vaisseau Fantome / Minkowski

Wagner / Nikitin / Eesti Filharmoonia Kammerkoor
Release Date: 11/19/2013 
Label:  Naive   Catalog #: 5349  
Composer:  Richard WagnerPierre-Louis Dietsch
Performer:  Mika KaresEvgeny NikitinIngela BrimbergEric Cutler,   ... 
Conductor:  Marc Minkowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Musiciens du Louvre
Number of Discs: 4 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Der fliegende H?llander 1. DIETSCH Le vaisseau fantôme 2 Marc Minkowski, cond; 1 Evgeny Nikitin ( The Dutchman ); 1 Ingela Brimberg ( Senta ); Eric Cutler ( 1 Éric, Read more 2 Georg ); Mika Kares ( 1 Daland, 2 Donald ); 2 Russell Braun ( Troïl ); 2 Sally Matthews ( Minna ); 2 Bernard Richter ( Magnus ); 2 Ugo Rabec ( Barlow ); Estonian P Choir; Musicians of the Louvre, Grenoble NAÏVE 5349 (4 CDs: 234:00 Text and Translation)

For many years, most performances of The Flying Dutchman followed the printed score of 1896, in which Felix Weingartner had tried to take into consideration all the changes that Wagner had eventually made in the opera before and after its 1843 premiere. Wagner fussed over the opera during his life, making minor changes, but it is said that he was planning a thorough revision of the opera which he never got around to making. Although considered authoritative, the Weingartner edition had “stylistic incongruities,” among which were the endings of the Overture and the final act. It was originally conceived as a one-act opera that could even share the evening with another piece, but Wagner eventually decided to divide it into three acts. Cosima Wagner revived the one-act version at Bayreuth in 1901. Both versions are still performed, but I assume the three-act edition is the more popular one. Evidently the “stylistic incongruities” that so worry some conductors didn’t bother Wagner, but that’s why we still hear the so-called “Dresden Version” of Tannhäuser instead of the superior “Paris Version.” Sometimes conductors choose an amalgamation of the two. And who are Donald, Georg, Barlow, Troïl, Magnus, and Minna?

Wagner visited Paris in 1839, hoping to have an opera performed at the Opéra, at that time the virtual capital of opera production, but all he got from the director of the company was an offer to buy the scenario of an opera Wagner was going to compose; so Wagner, needing money, sold The Flying Dutchman story for 500 francs. The story was then given to a pair of librettists who, while retaining the central idea of an obsessed woman jilting her would-be husband and sacrificing her life to save the soul of a mysterious sea captain, used several other sources, so its resemblance to what Wagner eventually composed is superficial. The action is set in Scotland where, in fact, Wagner had originally set his libretto before switching to Norway. That accounts for those strange names you see in the headnote. Georg eventually became Erik and Donald became Daland.

In Le vaisseau fantôme , Troïl is the Dutchman, Minna is Senta, Magnus is Erik. I was prepared to be bored or, possibly, amused by an opera I had never heard of, but the composer to whom the task of setting the libretto to music was given, Pierre-Louis Dietsch, produced a well-made, early 19th-century opera which can’t quite make up its mind whether it is a bel canto opera or an early Romantic one There are some cavatina/cabaletta numbers, including a spectacular extended cabaletta for Minna which Sally Mathews dispatches with distinction. The cast is a good one. Whether I would find the experience of hearing the opera as absorbing the second time around, I don’t know, but the fact that I had never previously heard of it is not a good sign.

Actually, I was skeptical about a “historically informed performance” of a Wagner opera, as well, but hearing the piece performed under Marc Minkowski and also Bruno Weil, whose recording I borrowed, convinced me that the opera comes off very well, at least when led by them and sung by good to very good singers. It moves along very smartly, perhaps even thrives, under this lighter-textured treatment. I don’t think I’d go for a Götterdämmerung that was performed this way, but I’d be willing to give it a try. Both maestros stick to the original single act edition, ignoring Wagner’s revisions. Of course, regardless of what period instruments or edition you use, the opera does require good singers and, fortunately, Minkowski has them. Evgeny Nikitin’s dark bass-baritone fits the role quite nicely and he uses it to good advantage, brooding in “Die Frist ist um” and gradually melting in his scene with Senta. As for her, Ingela Brimberg brings a strong voice to the role. The Donald/Daland is a good one, too. As Georg/Érik, Eric Cutler uses his generic voice to good advantage. You don’t want Erik to be too good—I saw a Met performance years ago where the Erik was Jon Vickers, which threw the performance off kilter, as Erik became a dominant figure. I don’t know just how big these singers’ voices are but, as Bruno Weil points out in the excellent annotations that accompany his recording, one doesn’t need big voices with early 19th-century instruments. Speaking of Weil, his Dutchman, Terje Stensvold, is, if anything, even better than Nikitin. I would put him in the same class as Fischer-Dieskau and Uhde (I’ve never heard Hotter’s recording.) His otherwise strong Senta, Astrid Weber, does utter a few strident high notes. Weil also has a good cast and I’d have a tough time deciding between the two recordings. The addition of an extra opera, of course, adds to the price of Minkowski’s but not by all that much—around five dollars. On Weil’s recording, you can hear some (gasp!) vibrato which Weil says was used selectively during the early 19th century. Now I find myself wondering, “Are Lohengrin and Tannhäuser next?”

For that matter, Otto Klemperer and Woldemar Nelsson also recorded the original edition using modern instruments. The principal difference between this edition and Wagner’s revisions is that he added some “transfiguration” music to the end of the Overture and the opera itself. This accompanies the vision of the Dutchman and Senta ascending, presumably, to heaven. Klemperer also divides the opera into three acts. His conducting (surprise!) is deliberate and weighty, culminating in a powerful last act, and it could be argued that his principals, Theo Adam and Anja Silja, inhabit their characters to greater effect, but Nelsson’s performance, as far as conducting and playing go, is intense and dramatic, one of the best-conducted Dutchmen I know. His principals, Simon Estes and Lisbeth Balslev, have healthier voices than Klemperer’s but create less vivid characters. There’s some stage noise but it’s no problem.

In other words, I can’t really choose a favorite recording, whether the original edition is a HIP or not. I can choose a favorite recording of the conventional edition and that’s Franz Konwitschny’s, formerly on EMI and Berlin Classics, now available on Brilliant. It’s weighty like Klemperer’s but it moves faster. Marianne Scheck is a respectable Senta and look at that male cast: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Gottlob Frick, Rudolf Schock, and Fritz Wunderlich (!) as the Steersman.

FANFARE: James Miller
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Works on This Recording

Der fliegende Holländer by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Mika Kares (Bass), Evgeny Nikitin (Baritone), Ingela Brimberg (Soprano),
Eric Cutler (Tenor), Bernard Richter (Tenor), Helene Schneiderman (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Marc Minkowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Musiciens du Louvre
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1841/1852; Germany 
Le Vaisseau fantôme by Pierre-Louis Dietsch
Performer:  Ugo Rabec (Bass), Russell Braun (Baritone), Sally Matthews (Soprano),
Bernard Richter (Tenor), Eric Cutler (Tenor)
Conductor:  Marc Minkowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Les Musiciens du Louvre
Period: Romantic 
Written: by 1842 

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