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 DVD 2564 647608 [139:00]
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.
Robert J Farr
This thrilling performance and imaginative production is ideal for all opera-lovers and particularly Wagner enthusiasts.
Previous reviews: Paul Corfield Godfrey & Anne Ozorio
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