Thursday, 3 September 2015

Der Fliegende Hollander, Bayreuth, 28 August 2015




RICHARD WAGNER: The Flying Dutchman

(Romantic Opera in Three Scenes)

Bayreuther Festspielhaus, 28 August 2015

Daland                                                    Kwagnchul Youn
Senta                                                       Ricarda Merbeth
Erik                                                         Tomislav Muzek
Mary                                                        Christa Mayer
Steersman                                                Benjamin Bruns
Dutchman                                                Samuel Youns
Chorus and Orchestra of the Bayreuth Festival
Conductor                                               Axel Gober                                       

I have finally achieved my ambition, and made it to Bayreuth...nothing will ever be the same for me after this first Pilgrimage up the Green Hill!! (Well, I got a taxi, since I have a mobility problem, but the effect is the same....still a pilgrimage for me). There are these rather entertainingly kitsch images of Wagner throughout the town....
Nothing really prepares you for experiencing the Bayreuth sound in real life....yes, I've heard countless broadcasts and recordings, seen countless DVDs, but this time I really felt the effect of the way the sound is projected by the covered orchestra pit. Such an exciting performance of the overture, the idea of the turbulent sea very convincingly portrayed, and the music of Senta's ballad echoing it sympathetically.
Musically, the performance was dominated by Senta (Ricarda Merbeth), making it as much her opera as the Dutchman's......she was well-matched by Samuel Youn as the Dutchman.
All the roles were well sung, Tomislav Muzek very lyrical as Erik, and Benjamin Bruns making the Steersman perhaps more interesting than usual, for reasons I shall come to when I discuss the staging. The chorus, such a vital part of this opera, were superb, their actions were choreographed almost like a ballet.
The production was a bit quirky, but I liked it. There isn't a vast amount of visual reference to the sea, but that doesn't matter, as it is so strong musically. The first scene seems to take place in the control room of a state of the art nuclear submarine (?), with Daland and the Steersman in a boat (lifeboat) hanging over the side. Unfortunately, I could not find an image of this impressive stage set, but here at least are Daland and the Steersman.

As you see, they are not dressed as sailors, but in rather smart civilian clothes, as are the other sailors.

There is a reason for this, in that there is a sub-plot in which Daland and the steersman run a (slightly dodgy?) business importing electrical goods, which is what the girls are unpacking during the 'Spinning Chorus'. I don't have a problem with this, the Spinning Chorus is just a plot device to mark the scene change (and if it were a Spinning Chorus, it would give me a chance to nit-pick about whether the spinning wheels were in any sense authentic!!) The sub-plot is going to turn out to have relevance to the Senta/Dutchman plot in the end.
I want to move on to the Senta/Dutchman scene - the 'Not Love Duet', as it were. (Remember he sings - translation by me - 'This deep burning sensation I feel....may I who am so wretched call it love? Oh no, it's the yearning for redemption....may it be mine through such an angel').  Senta has worked herself up into a passion of obsession during the Ballad, and the Duet was unbelievably intense. There is Daland's jolly tune as he exhorts Senta to seize the chance to gain a rich husband, and then it gradually dawns on him......they're doing just fine, I'll make myself scarce. (They are standing on the boxes that the electrical goods came in....there is a point to this!)

As soon as he leaves, the whole orchestral colouring changes, and any connection with ordinary life is isn't that they are actually communicating with each other, but that each is finding the fulfilment of their deepest dreams....she of the need to redeem him, he of the yearning for redemption. as soon as the duet is over, she goes up to him and grabs him, kissing him passionately.....just as Erik said she did in his dream narration.......and then they do communicate directly, and she reaches the height of exultation, as she goes to put on angel wings, and puts a crown (halo?) on the Dutchman's head. This was about the most intense performance, musically and dramatically, that I have seen...the production is perhaps built round Senta rather than the Dutchman, and I was impressed by the strong ringing tones, and the passionate characterisation.

For the chorus in the next scene, the girls have changed out of their blue overalls (about the only splash of colour in the staging), and put on party dresses in shades of while, grey and looks attractive, if somewhat stylised.
Then the final, she doesn't throw herself into the sea, she climbs onto the boxes on which he is sitting, and they are united in death.....the audience can see blood on his chest, earlier he tried to cut himself but of course nothing happened.......look at the blissful expression on her face as she cradles him.

In the final tableau, it looks as if Daland and the others have decided to make memorial statues of Senta and the Dutchman....that was the point of the packaging. I thought it was rather an interesting idea....they have achieved what they wanted out of life (i.e, death!!) but people will always remember them.

Such a splendid achievement by the Bayreuth team. Now I have to start saving up for next year!!!