Notes and Editorial Reviews
Director Harry Kupfer?s Bayreuth production of
Der fliegende Holländer
created a stir when it was first introduced in 1978. It was offered nearly 40 times at the Festival
through 1985, the year this performance was filmed. Kupfer, who turned 70 last summer, takes the unconventional approach of making a mentally unhinged Senta the focus of the drama?basically, the entire story is her hallucination. The curtain rises at the beginning of the overture to reveal the spinning room?the setting for act II?where, during a ferocious storm, the Dutchman?s portrait falls from
the wall. Senta retrieves it and clutches it to her chest for the duration of the opera, ascending to a high perch to observe the action of the scenes she?s not actually singing in. In act II, Daland indeed arrives with a stranger in black, a wide-brimmed hat pulled low over his eyes. But this is not the Dutchman that Senta sees?she sings instead to the man in chains in the plant-like interior of his ghost-ship, as her father?s guest stands inertly to the side. At the end, the delusional girl leaps from an open window to join her idealized lover in death, her agony finally ended.
This may or may not work for you. Because the entire action is seen through Senta?s eyes, everything?s a bit strange to begin with and the contrasts between the ?real? world and the supernatural that other productions bring out are blurred. So the sailors and their girls in act III are ghoulish, nightmarish in their own right: it?s not the usual picture of wholesome fun disturbed by the Dutchman?s spectral crew. And Senta?s constant presence?staring, grimacing, and forever holding that painting?can interrupt the dramatic flow.
Of course, regardless of how you feel about the staging, there?s always the music. Simon Estes is terrific, his voice powerful, richly and eloquently shaded as he traces the vacillations of his character?s mood from the occasional glimmer of hope to utter desperation. His opening monologue communicates well a tortured soul longing only for the comfort of death. Memorable, too, is his scene with Senta in act II, when he sings to her of his hope for release. Another strong performance comes from Robert Schunk as Erik, for once not a pining Werther but, while concerned and considerate, quite assertive and, appropriately enough, angry with Senta.
Lisbeth Balslev has a tough job, trapped as she is by the production?s premise. Senta is nuts to begin with: we know this because we?ve been watching her on stage for 50 minutes or so before she sings a note. Balslev?s vocal portrayal is kind of beefy, without a lot of inflection, and her Ballad is almost fierce in its delivery. A firm, confident top end is some consolation.
Matti Salminen is a bluff and hearty Daland, though perhaps not as affably opportunistic as he was on a DVD documenting a production of the Savonlinna Opera Festival filmed a few years after this one (Kultur D2252,
28:4). A real treat is the Steersman of a youngish Graham Clark, now the planet?s most in-demand Mime (see the
DVD review in this issue). The clarion-voiced Clark was then, as he is now, a tremendously physical acting singer, always a pleasure to watch whenever he?s on stage.
Woldemar Nelsson conducts idiomatically, with the third act in particular a dramatic juggernaut. The Bayreuth Festival Orchestra is superb, as is the chorus. Sonically, the 5.1 DTS multichannel puts a little more than usual in the rear channels to give a sense of music in the air between the viewer and the screen; in comparison, the perfectly fine stereo sound is less involving. Otherwise, the sonics are robust, with good orchestral weight. The camera work is well-done?we feel as though we?re in the Dutchman?s ship looking back at the crowd of sailors and women peering up?and the video transfer is good. Subtitles are available in English, German, French, Spanish, and Chinese.
FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Works on This Recording
Der fliegende Holländer by Richard Wagner
Anny Schlemm (Soprano),
Robert Schunk (Tenor),
Matti Salminen (Bass),
Lisbeth Balslev (Soprano),
Simon Estes (Bass)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Written: 1841/1852; Germany
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