I would put last night’s Der fliegende Holländer into the third quintile of Wiener Staatsoper revivals. Christine Mielitz’s production has been sketchily and statically staged and was plagued with technical calamities, but it’s still interesting. Peter Schneider’s conducting was reasonably exciting and Adrianne Pieczonka’s Senta and Stephen Gould’s Erik are both good. And none of the rest is that bad.
“Richard Wagner, Der fliegende Holländer, romantic opera in three acts by Richard Wagner [sic, that’s what it says in the program–except in German].” Wiener Staatsoper, 2/12/2011. Production by Christine Mieilitz (revival) conducted by Peter Schneider with Albert Dohmen (Dutchman), Adrianne Pieczonka (Senta), Stephen Gould (Erik), Walter Fink (Daland).
This production was one of the more controversial efforts of the Staatsoper’s verfliegende Holender, former intendant Ioan Holender. Vienna gets its panties in a twist easily; this is not exactly high-level provocation.
Mielitz’s work here is interesting, but in this revival it came across as scattered. As is the norm for Staatsoper revivals, the direction of the singers was non-existent, the production reduced to the visual elements and a few static stage images. The numerous technical issues–mistimed (I think) lighting cues, creaky set changes, stuck curtains–didn’t help either. I want to be generous, because who knows what resemblance this performance bore to her original vision. I know I say something to this effect in almost review I write of rep performances, but it really bears remembering.
Some technical frailty was understandable, because Stefan Mayer’s set is complex (and not easy to make out in either of these photos, both of which are from the beginning of Act 2). A boat-like curved floor is contained in a bourgeois room, with a moving ramp, various appearing and disappearing walkways, and a catwalk above where Daland apparently keeps his birds (in cages). The red sails of the Dutchman’s ship approach from upstage center. It owes something to Harry Kupfer’s Bayreuth Holländer. The dress is ambiguous twentieth-century.
Daland and the society of the village are good capitalists (Daland reads the Financial Times), while the Dutchman and his crew are outcast radicals who dress like Goths circa 1991 in long leather trenchcoats with red bits. Senta longs to escape the strictures of bourgeois life (also the rapey drunken sailors), where she is nothing more than a commodity to her wealth-seeking father. The portrait she fixates on depicts not the Dutchman but a quartet of revolutionaries–Marx, Engels, Che, and one I couldn’t identify. Ha, that’s what kind of red those sails are. The world of the Dutchman is dark, lit by bits of yellow and red light, the bourgeois world is bright (though the switches between the two were awkwardly executed). Erik seems to represent a middle ground between the two worlds, as indicated by his brown leather jacket. I think. Maybe you see why this concept was a little unclear.
Mielitz’s most controversial gesture (judging by standing line gossip) is staging Senta’s death not as the usual jump into the sea but rather as a Brünnhilde-style immolation. This departure from the world of sea and water is unfortunate, but the redemption by fire thing is apt, no? The production takes Senta very seriously, and this is a more dramatic way of going out.
Peter Schneider conducted with the kind of energy and excitement that makes some reference to sea foam necessary. There wasn’t a lot of nuance but it was competent, effective, and that’s not bad. The brass overpowered the strings at times, particularly at the start of the overture, and the timing at the end of the development didn’t come off quite right, but in general the orchestra sounded good. The cast was respectable if not electrifying. Albert Dohmen was a passable Dutchman, certainly more imposing than Juha Uusitalo at the Met last April. He is loud and declaims effectively, but the sound is harsh, dull and lacks resonance, as well as genuine stage presence or a unique take on the character. Adrianne Pieczonka’s clear, feminine soprano (more a big lyric sound than a dramatic) is a good fit for Senta, and her accuracy and musicality are always appreciated. She acts well enough.
This was my second time hearing Met Siegfried-to-be Stephen Gould, and the second time as Erik. Fortunately he impressed me much more this time than he did at the Met last April. He’s got a big, somewhat unwieldy Heldentenor (with a dull spot around the top of his range), but the tone is genuinely heroic and he did his best to sing the music with finesse and Textdeutlichkeit. And he was a considerably more engaging actor than I remembered. He is also singing Siegfried in Vienna’s Ring this April, and now I am looking forward to hearing him in a bigger role.
Supporting characters were the usual Staatsoper crowd, including Walter Fink as an unfocused and underpowered Daland and Norbert Ernst as an ardent, somewhat pushed Steuermann. The male chorus really sold their music, sounding hearty to an almost absurd HMS Pinafore chest-thumping degree. I did wonder about the male choral division; perhaps due to the set design the Dutchman’s chorus sounded wimpy in comparison to Daland’s.
Short ovation at the end, loudest for Pieczonka and Gould, lukewarm for Dohmen. Not amazing, but a step up from the Met’s effort last spring.
Four performances remain, February 15, 18, 22, and 25.
Bows–you can almost make out Senta’s portraits at the top of the first photo:
Performance photos copyright Wiener Staatsoper, bows photos my own.