The Met’s highly anticipated new production of Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer by François Girard features some stunning visual images and evocative lighting. The audience is greeted with a large painting of an eye framed by The Met’s golden proscenium arch, extended along the bottom side, before the performance. The director’s focus is on Senta’s obsession with the painting of the Dutchman, symbolized by the eye. This eye appears in the background during the performance as Senta sings her ballad, but descends below the horizon as the Dutchman in human form comes up from below to replace it. There is a real ship, for Daland and his men, the only realism in the otherwise abstract set of a dark, moodily painted background. The women spin the ropes that hang from the fly system above as they make stylized gestures. 

Evgeny Nikitin (Holländer) © Ken Howard | Met Opera
Evgeny Nikitin (Holländer)
© Ken Howard | Met Opera

The chorus choreography in the storm scene at the beginning and in the harbor scene towards the end gets lost as they are dressed in gray costumes, blending into the background of a smoky gray sky. The principal singers mostly stand and sing, with little interaction between them. It is unfortunate that much of the singing takes place upstage, making the characters remote and distant. The final scene does offer a coup de théâtre, as the chorus, crouching on stage, are washed over by an image of surging sea water as Daland, Erik, Mary and the Steersman stand with their back towards the audience to stare at the aftermath of Senta’s sacrifice, the sky bright with red.

<i>Der fliegende Holländer</i> © Ken Howard | Met Opera
Der fliegende Holländer
© Ken Howard | Met Opera

The static production may have been saved, and may have enhanced the story of the doomed seaman and his salvation, if there had been a good musical performance. Valery Gergiev’s conducting was unfortunately a major disappointment as his pace dragged and lacked a sense of drama throughout. The overture was played with majesty, albeit with some horn issues. Gergiev excelled during orchestral passages and choral scenes, and drew some exciting playing from the orchestra, notably strings and winds. But his energy seemed to flag during intimate moments of the drama. The Dutchman’s opening monologue failed to express the sense of his despair mixed with hope, and the heart-throbbing duet of the Dutchman and Senta had no sense of anticipation of happiness.   

Anja Kampe (Senta) and chorus © Ken Howard | Met Opera
Anja Kampe (Senta) and chorus
© Ken Howard | Met Opera

 

German soprano Anja Kampe, making her belated Met debut, was a vocally exciting and dramatically sympathetic Senta. While her high notes may have been a bit shrill at times, she demonstrated her deep connection to the character with her warm and beguiling voice as she professed her desire to save the poor man. Dressed in red, the only color amid the sea of gray, she commanded our attention with her dramatic singing and acting. Her Dutchman, sung by Evgeny Nikitin (a late replacement for Sir Bryn Terfel), was secure in his command of the role and showed some flair in his middle range; more charisma and nuance would have been welcome as his singing tended to be monotonous. Franz-Josef Selig, a veteran Daland, sang with authority and confidence, his diction warm and clear. Mihoko Fujimura, another belated Met debutant, sang Mary as a humorless, stern character. 

Evgeny Nikitin (Holländer) and Anja Kampe (Senta) © Ken Howard | Met Opera
Evgeny Nikitin (Holländer) and Anja Kampe (Senta)
© Ken Howard | Met Opera

Two tenors nearly stole the show: Sergei Skorokhodov as Erik and David Portillo as the Steersman. Skorokhodov’s Erik was rather brutish in acting but he brought much needed vocal power and beauty to this thankless role. His recounting of his dream and his duet with Senta reminded us of the lyricism in the stormy music of the opera. He sang much of his music in foreground, which also helped to gain the audience’s sympathy. Portillo’s clear voice was a breath of fresh air as the Steersman sang of his sweetheart up on high at the helm of the boat. The overall strong contribution of the singers, the Met Chorus, and the Met Orchestra, however, was not enough to make the evening unforgettable. One hopes that future performances will have more pulse and drive from the pit to remind us of Wagner’s journey in the stormy sea off Norway, befitting of the production.

***11