Notes and Editorial Reviews
It’s been 30 years since the first “Opera in English” release, Siegfried, which inaugurated Reginald Goodall’s celebrated Ring cycle with the English National Opera. Siegfried was a gutsy choice, given Wagner’s feelings about the specific sound of his texts, and the success of Goodall’s Ring surely paved the way for the following three decades of OIE, which now include around 40 complete works plus other discs of operatic selections. Remarkably, this Dutchman represents the first time Chandos has returned to Wagner since the Ring. Christopher Cowell’s English rendering of the libretto is spectacularly well done, preserving not only the meaning of Wagner’s verse but also the original rhyme scheme...
The texts don’t matter much,
though, without first-rate Wagner singers, and this new recording has plenty of them. John Tomlinson inhabits the title role—I saw him sing it commandingly two years ago on my one visit to Bayreuth. He shades his voice with exceptional sensitivity to the words, all the more easy to appreciate by English-speakers thanks to Cowell’s translations. Tomlinson, of course, understands the supernatural aspects of his part, yet doesn’t play the Dutchman as a phantom, but rather as a very human character suffering in an identifiably human way. It is Tomlinson’s performance that makes his ultimate union with Senta a logical conclusion, the two completing each other in death.
Nina Stemme could be the hottest Wagnerian soprano of the moment—and with Deborah Voigt and Jane Eaglen in good form, maybe this is turning into a pretty good era for the most demanding of the composer’s female roles. Stemme is performing Isolde in Bayreuth’s new Tristan und Isolde this summer and, as many know, completed the nearly two-month project of recording Tristan with Placido Domingo earlier this year. Her voice is very appealing, rich in its lower register, warmly glowing higher up, and never turning hard on top; accurate, controlled, and very slightly opaque in quality. Her first soft entrance at the beginning of scene 2 is gorgeous and her Ballad is a fervent prayer. As the only non-native English-speaker in the cast, Stemme might have stood out from the other principals but she, too, is intelligible without the libretto in front of you.
Halfvarson’s Daland is bluffly and good-heartedly opportunistic, warmly and robustly sung. Tomlinson and Halfvarson have ideally complementary voices, Tomlinson’s darker, with a lower center of gravity. The part of Erik has to be carefully cast: a Siegfried sort of voice is obviously too much, but neither is a Mime-type tenor right, which is really how I’d peg Kim Begley’s. As accomplished as Begley’s singing is, Erik still comes off as somewhat whiny and self-pitying, as he often does—a nice guy, but not good enough for Senta. Peter Wedd’s Steersman is beautifully vocalized, warm and open on top. He sounds so British, as if Daland has borrowed him for a while from Captain Vere’s The Indomitable. Mary, for some reason, is a role that never makes much of an impression in performances or recordings of Der fliegende Holländer, but Patricia Bardon delivers the part quite satisfactorily.
Needless to say, having the LSO as the pit band—those horns!—is an incalculable asset. Others may have driven this music harder, but David Parry’s direction is idiomatic, even if this performance clearly belongs to the singers and not the conductor. If there’s any aspect of this production that gets just a “B-plus” rather than a solid “A,” it’s the chorus’s contribution. The girls, as they open the second scene, sound a little Gilbert-and-Sullivany; the wonderful “hitch” to Wagner’s melody is underdone, and one could stand for a little more Teutonic edge instead of British sunshine. The choral section that’s nearly half of scene 3 doesn’t have the focus and crackling dramatic impetus of the finest versions.
The recording was made over a week in January of 2004 at Blackheath Halls, London, and sounds quite good, with natural balances between singers and orchestra. (It’s 24-bit/96 kHz: could a high-resolution multichannel release be a possibility?) There are a few theatrical effects—singers moving “downstage” as they enter, or crossing from one side to the other. When the Dutchman’s crew finally does respond to the Norwegian sailors and their dates in the final scene, they sound to be confined, claustrophobically, within the hold of their ship. Whether this would be your 10th Dutchman or your first, Chandos’s set deserves the strongest consideration.
Andrew Quint, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Der fliegende Holländer by Richard Wagner
Nina Stemme (Soprano),
Patricia Bardon (Mezzo Soprano),
Kim Begley (Tenor),
Peter Wedd (Tenor),
Eric Halfvarson (Bass Baritone),
John Tomlinson (Bass)
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
Written: 1841/1852; Germany
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