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Richard WAGNER(1813 - 1883). Der Fliegende Holländer - Opera in three acts (1843)
Holländer, The flying Dutchman - Franz Grundheber (bass-baritone); Daland - Matti Salminen (bass); Erik - Raimo Sirkiä (tenor); Steersman - Jorma Silvasti (tenor); Senta - Hildegard Behrens (soprano)
Savonlinna Opera Festival Orchestra and Chorus/Leif Segerstam
Director - Ilkka Bäckman
Designer - Juhani Pirskanen
rec. live, Savonlinna Opera Festival, 1989
Directed for video - Aarno Cronvall
Picture format: 4:3; Colour; Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo
Subtitles: English, French, German (original language) and Spanish.
Leaflet synopsis in English WARNER CLASSICS 2564
I suppose that my autobiographical introduction to a review of Opera
Rara’s Caterina Cornaro (see review)
was somewhat indulgent. I ventured an explanation as to how my near
monotheistic view that opera equals Verdi had evolved into a love
for the bel canto composers Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini.
My explanation related to my 1960s experiences in the theatre. These
included standing to see a Norma that featured Joan Sutherland
and Marilyn Horne. Then came the former as Lucia with an unknown
young Italian tenor called Pavarotti. These experiences were followed
by the burgeoning availability of recordings from Decca and Opera
Rara of works by Donizetti. The obverse was my experience of Wagner
performances. Ever keen to broaden my opera experiences I sat, on
hard knee-restricting seats, through performances of the Ring Cycle
where the singers were often too weak to ride the orchestral textures,
even when a conductor was intent on giving the singers their chance.
Even when a singer could ride the Wagnerian orchestral density, as
Rita Hunter could, sitting on those hard seats whilst she stood on
a rock for an hour as the story barely unfolded I found a trial. A
performance of the much shorter Der Fliegende Holländer
gave me pause for further consideration, as did the well-spread TV
transmissions of Patrice Chéreau’s ground-breaking Ring.
However, it was the rather shorter and swiftly moving story of the
Dutchman that caught my operatic interest and imagination. This was
reinforced when, whilst acting as Classical Music Adviser to the now
defunct Compact Publishing, responsible for early CD catalogues, I
received a copy of the Philips live recording of the 1985 Bayreuth
Festival performances to review. Conducted by Woldemar Nelsson and
featuring Simon Estes in the title role and Matti Salminen as Daland
(Philips 416 300) it gripped my interest. So, although I have reviewed
fewer Wagner than La Traviatas among the several hundred or
so I have written of recorded music for this site, I had no hesitation
about taking this set on board.
Wagner wrote his own librettos and many of the stories related to
German legends with redemption a constant theme. Originally in three
acts, Wagner also conceived Der Fliegende Holländer as
a one-act work and it is often played without interval, although that
is not the case here. This widely acclaimed production by Ilkka Bäckman
takes place outdoors in the huge courtyard of Finland's 500-year-old
Olavinlinna Castle. This majestic and impressive setting certainly
gives the production both atmosphere and realism. Of particular note
are the lighting and projections which help create an appropriate
atmosphere and relate to what is being sung by soloists or chorus,
the latter having a significant role that is here superbly realised.
These images include swirling waters and girls at spinning wheels
as well as the ghost ship itself. This creates a relevant atmosphere
related to the story rather than producer concept or regietheater.
Der Fliegende Holländer tells the story of Captain Daland's
ship, caught in an icy storm on its way home. Pushed off course he
drops anchor and decides to wait the storm out before retiring for
the night. He leaves his helmsman on watch. After Daland and the other
sailors take to their cabins, a mysterious ship appears and locks
itself to Daland's. The satanically attired Flying Dutchman steps
out of the ghostly ship and laments his fate, revealing his deal with
Satan that he would sail the seas forever. However, an angel offered
him prospect of salvation, so that once every seven years, if he is
able to find a wife that is pure of heart and true to him, he will
be free of his curse.
Daland wakes up and speaks with the Dutchman who offers him a large
sum of money for the night's lodging. He then learns that Daland has
a daughter and asks for her hand in marriage. Daland, mesmerized by
the amount of wealth the Dutchman has acquired, agrees. However, his
daughter Senta has a suitor, Erik the huntsman. She dreams of the
Dutchman and vows to rescue him from his demise. Daland arrives with
a mysterious guest. Daland introduces the Dutchman as Senta's betrothed.
She tells him that she will remain truthful and faithful to him until
she dies. Daland couldn't be happier and blesses their union.
Later that evening, the women of the village invite the Dutchman's
crew to join in the merriment and celebration of the impending marriage.
Erik, confesses his love for Senta and pleads with her to remain faithful
to him. The Dutchman overhears Erik's plea and believes Senta has
lied to him. The Dutchman and his ghostly crew quickly depart and
make their way back to the ship. Their ghostly forms, now apparent
to the people, prompt screams and dismay. The villagers including
Erik and Daland run to the shore to watch events unfold. Senta has
made her way to the shore, only to take perch on a tall cliff overlooking
the bay. Remembering her vow of faithfulness to the Dutchman, she
throws herself off the cliff and falls into the icy waters below.
Moments later, the heavens open and the Dutchman and Senta embrace
as they are lifted into the clouds.
The German bass-baritone Franz Grundheber sings the Dutchman. His
voice is ideally strong and suitably declamatory, if a little dry-toned
from time to time. His acting and vocal characterisation are first
class as is the Daland of native Finn, Matti Salminen. Both Grundheber
and Salminen have the required vocal weight to do justice to the music
without strain - able to ride the orchestral textures as well as realising
the nature of the characters portrayed. At the height of her career
Hildegard Behrens is an outstanding singing actress as Senta, whose
destiny is to redeem the Dutchman from his fate. She brings fulsome
tone to her interpretation allied to committed acting. There were
not many sopranos around at the time with the figure du part
and the sheer vocal stamina and heft for this role. Hers is a very
welcome realisation to be caught on camera. In the lesser tenor role
of the Steersman Jorma Silvasti’s light, clear, expressively
heady tone is a delight and nicely contrasted with Raimo Sirkiä
as an ardent, but confused Erik.
The setting and the vibrant singing of the chorus add to Leif Segerstam’s
grasp of both the drama and lyricism of Wagner’s music.