Today’s matinee was the Canadian Opera Company’s closing performance of The Flying Dutchman, complete with a singer making his debut. The American bass Harold Wilson stepped in for an indisposed Franz-Josef Selig in the role of Daland. When I looked it up I saw he’s covered the role at the Metropolitan Opera.
Not too shabby.
While it may be unfair comparing Wilson to anyone else (when they’re at the end of a run and he’s fresh) he sounded bigger & more precisely pitched than any singer we’ve heard in this show. The production may be different from what he’s seen, but even so Wilson fit in perfectly. We were lucky to have him.
I’m pleased that COC artistic director Perryn Leech found such a capable replacement.
Christopher Alden’s production is in its fourth incarnation with the COC. Roughly every seven years it comes ashore in Toronto, like the Dutchman himself.
I find that director’s theatre productions of opera aka “Regietheater” have not just their good and bad points, but more accurately good and bad scenes. There are moments in the show when one goes “aha”, because for that instant at least, the concept clicks. And there are also moments when the concept doesn’t quite fit the story.
While I heard comments on social media critical of the way Alden ends the work (and because it’s closing night I am comfortable offering a spoiler), it’s a brilliant resolution to the problem every director and designer faces with this opera. We’re told Senta is true to the Dutchman unto death, via stage directions in the score telling her to jump into the ocean (or the theatrical equivalent), followed by the ships sinking and the two, now happily transfigured, seen ascending into heaven. Of course nobody ever does it that way anymore, if they ever did.
By having Erik the hunter shoot her, which is totally consistent with the characters onstage at that moment and not far from what’s written, Senta can keep her promise. Alden then has the Dutchman ascend a spiral staircase as though into heaven: an effect that always gets me, today being no exception.
The production has diverged somewhat from its first presentation in the O’Keefe Centre, as usual. I suppose it’s inevitable. It was very different the first two times in that big barn of a theatre where we now have much more detail in Four Seasons Centre because of the intimacy of the venue. My friend Celine Papizewska reminded me of some of the edge she saw in Alden’s original version that’s not there anymore, especially the “horrific Holocaust imagery of the ghost chorus”. Whether that’s what Alden intended or not, it’s drifted in a new direction, possibly because the performers are restoring the usual readings of their roles, reflecting the score. Daland (both Selig or Wilson) are now closer to the usual comic territory of the role. The chorus in Act III seemed more human.
I found that I enjoyed Marjorie Owens’ Senta even more today, as I noticed some lovely nuances to her singing especially in her Act II ballad. Miles Mykkanen was again excellent as the Steersman, although I continue to be perplexed by what Alden asks of this character. In Act III when the chorus picks up the song from Act I with the refrain “Steuermann! Lass die wacht” (Steersman leave the watch), it’s as though Alden thinks this has to be literally directed at his Steersman, when it’s just a reprise of the song from Act I, and generic in its suggestion that the Steersman leave the watch. They’re drinking and having fun, but Alden asks Mykkanen to walk like a zombie across the front of the stage. Mykkanen does a great job of it, vocally & dramatically, but no matter how many more times I see this I don’t understand this. Oh well. (although –second thought next morning–perhaps the Steuermann is enacting something that made more sense in the earlier Alden versions, alongside a nastier version of the chorus, perhaps a dissenting soul, guilty, not wanting to take part..? but I’m still not sure)
The orchestra and chorus were again the real stars. Conductor Johannes Debus got the biggest applause of the night, deservedly.
Dutchman may have walked up his spiral staircase for the last time, but we still have a few Carmen performances left October 26, 28, 30, and November 4.