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Wagner,  The Flying Dutchman: Soloists,  Orchestra Sinfónica de Sevilla. Chorus Amigos Teatro Maestranza. Conductor: Pedro Halffter. Teatro Maestranza de Sevilla. 8.2.2008. (JMI)

Production from Teatro Comanale di Bologna.

Director: Yannis Kokkos.
Sets and Costumes: Yannis Kokkos.
Lighting: Guido Levi.


Holländer: Trond Halstein Moe.
Senta: Elisabete Matos.
Daland. Walter Fink.
Erik: Jorma Silvasti.

Seville’s opera season began unusually late this season, in February, not October or November, probably because of building works. I did not have great expectations of the Flying Dutchman, being more a Mozartean myself (and eagerly awaiting the April Don Giovanni production featuring Erwin Schrott and Anja Harteros). But I was very keen to see if the Maestranza company could bring anything new to this warhorse of a work. Sadly not, it is one more Wagner opera performance, musically pure routine, and more flawed in cast than staging.

The production was imported from Bologna, where it was premiered eight years ago, under the theatrical, stage and costume direction of the Greek Yannis Kokkos. Here, the director was Giulio Ciabatti. The production is based on two very familiar elements in Kokkos’ works:  projections and a big sloping mirror at the back of the stage. Kokkos used both elements to great advantage, with clever positioning of the characters on the stage. Besides the mirror and projections, the production was almost minimalist, with the exception of the bow of the Dutch ship, though this possibly enters the stage in the wrong place.

The costumes tried to emphasize the contrast between black and white – they were black, and what little stage furniture and the floor were white. This was set off by good lighting work, particularly in the third act. So the production worked really well, full of good taste, and avoiding any distracting topicalities. The directing was more hit and miss, with the chorus too static in the first and third acts. The brightest point came with the spinners’ chorus and Senta’s ballad, where both the colour contrasts and the mirror were at their best. All in all, it was a fine production, firmly within classical traditions of  taste.

Pedro Halffter had little operatic experience before taking over as the resident conductor at the Maestranza. I suspect this was his debut in staged Wagner opera. Was this why his reading seemed superficial and routine, more inclined to show energy in his gestures than truly exploring the score’s depths. His equally young compatriot, Juanjo Mena, achieved a far more interesting result in the same work in Bilbao. Even technically, there seemed problems of ensemble and some startling wrong notes from the below-par orchestra. Of the chorus, the men also fell short, the women were better.

Little-known Norwegian baritone Trond Halstein Moe sang the Dutchman himself and he seemed miscast to me. His light baritone was simply too inadequate at the bottom of the range and also had a number of problems (especially of voice production) higher up. His voice seemed too small for so large a theatre, he would have been stretched by Wolfram, let alone singing the Dutchman. With no disrespect intended to his musicianship or acting, he was simply in the wrong Fach.

Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos was, by contrast, a good Senta. Matos today is a banker in anything she does, as she sticks to the more lyric Wagnerian repertoire and is  a regular artist at the Barcelona Liceu. She was a fully convincing interpreter tonight, living the role in depth and singing with full commitment and intensity in spite of some occasional fluffs. Matos is for me a really underrated artist, far less recognised than she deserves. Veteran  Austrian bass  Walter Fink was a well-cast, efficient Daland. He was at his best in the bright notes in the middle of his range, whereas above that he was at times too tightened and whitish. Jorma Silvasti was once again Erik and repeated his habitual correct interpretation with his usual problems in the high notes, where he did his best as always. In the secondary roles there were competent performances from Barbara Bornemann (Frau Mary) and Vicente Ombuena (Steuermann.

A full house gave the production a very warm, but uncharacteristically restrained reception, though Matos’s performance was clearly especially appreciated.

José M. Irurzun

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