in the concert hall has several salutary effects. For one, it relieves
stage directors of the temptation to gum up the works with looney ideas.
It puts the emphasis squarely on the music, partly by placing the orchestra
front and center. For Wagner's Der Fliegender Hollander, currently
in a five-performance run at Davies Symphony Hall, the result is nothing
short of spectacular. Heard in their second performance, conductor Michael
Tilson Thomas pumped formidable energy into an orchestra at the top
of its form, bass baritone Mark Delavan delivered a Dutchman of enormous
depth, and soprano Jane Eaglen, despite some early wrestling matches
with pitch, proved a Senta capable of riding over the whole storm thrillingly.
these performances, billed as "a semi-staged concert," director Peter
McClintock converted the back of the orchestra's stage to a raised platform
large enough to allow the singers to move around on it. The terrace
seats surrounding the stage were extended here and there with crow's
nest outcroppings to stand in for Daland's ship and the pier. Large
triangular sails stretched across some of the spaces, allowing for clean
entries and exits for the singers and chorus and plain surfaces for
lighting effects (and projected titles). The orchestra and singers wore
simple black pajama-like clothing, rather than extensive costumes.
was enough to bring the story to life. Wagner, after all, tells it all
in the music, much of it in the orchestra, anyway. Thomas, like many
big-time symphony conductors these days, doesn't take the extended time
necessary to conduct in the opera house, but his theatrical sense works
its way into his concerts often, and this was a chance to wallow in
it. If he missed an occasional detail -- those spectral horn chords
that signify the Dutchman's ghost ship in the scene with Daland's crew
in Act III whizzed by without the conductor taking the time to savor
the sonic effect, for one example -- the final minutes paid off with
a sense of glorious inevitability as he built up the intensity to a
had help from Delavan, whose vocal weight, impeccable musicianship and
sense of dramatic purpose must place him among the very best in this
role. The Dutchman's world-weariness and a dual sense of hope and despair
was palpable in his Act I monologue, his anguish overpowering in the
final scene, delivered with jaw-dropping gravitas from a crow's nest
is a rare sort of Wagnerian soprano. Her voice lacks the metal ping
and rock-hard backbone that characterizes most of them, but it has remarkable
focus and enough volume to pierce through the densest orchestration,
especially when she's singing above the staff. The voice is not exactly
creamy, but it has a sort of softness around it. Maybe it's that texture
that makes it seem just a hair off pitch sometimes -- a tad sharp on
this note, a little flat on that one -- but it can be disconcerting,
especially in the symphony hall. It was like that through her Act II
ballad, when she recounts the tale of the Flying Dutchman she is about
to meet, and through her scene with Erik the huntsman, her intended.
Something clicked in the final scene as Delavan, Thomas and the orchestra
ratcheted up the intensity, and she responded with better intonation
and the sort of womanly singing that caught all kinds of subtle inflections
even as the forte became fortissimo.
something ironic, perhaps even right, about Senta finally zoning in
on that final scene, when she makes her noble sacrifice to redeem the
Dutchman's life with her own.
the way to that riveting final scene -- which drew an immediate standing
ovation from a Davies Hall audience that seldom responds so enthusiastically
-- there were fine moments to savor. The chorus, which, unlike an opera
chorus, is unaccustomed to acting, made the most of its every opportunity.
The women rolled up yarn as they spun out their spinning song, the men
practically danced into their positions as they rollicked through their
sea shanties, and raised hairs on the backs of a lot of necks with their
ghost ship chorus/response in Act III, delivered from the very back
of the balcony as the lighting suddenly went all red. Mezzo soprano
Jill Grove played Mary as a sort of schoolmarm and kept the ball rolling
while Eaglen homed in on her pitch and tenor Mark Baker brought a sense
of heroic failure to Erik. As the Steersman, Eric Cutler was sweet-voiced
if a bit underpowered.
of all the supporting cast was Stephen Milling, a bit wooly of voice
but rock-solid in Daland's music, providing ideal counterpoint to Delavan's
emotional bundle of a Dutchman.
performances, which continue through June 21, are part of a German-inflected
June festival the orchestra calls "Innocence Undone: Wagner, Weill and
the Weimar Years," which also includes performances by chanteuse Ute
Lemper of Weill's "Seven Deadly Sins" and a program of Wagner, Hindemith,
Schoenberg and Toch songs featuring soprano Laura Claycomb.