Wagner’s first canonical work Der fliegende Holländer seemed a fitting opera for the Met’s future music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin to conduct after his official appointment by the company. Dutchman was transitional for Wagner as a composer, as it contains discrete arias, duets and ensembles and yet marks his early attempt at through-composed opera, with the orchestra playing a prominent part. Mr Nézet-Séguin is relatively new to Wagner, and while he showed a tremendous mastery of the score already, I could not help thinking that he was conducting an Italian rather than a German opera.

Michael Volle (The Dutchman) © Richard Termine | Metropolitan Opera
Michael Volle (The Dutchman)
© Richard Termine | Metropolitan Opera

Under Mr Nézet-Séguin’s baton, the orchestra sounded glorious, majestic, and at the same time delicate and nuanced. There were melodies and phrases that I never heard before from the strings and the woodwinds. The brass section did themselves proud, a minor wayward sound here and there notwithstanding. Mr Nézet-Séguin emphasized the score’s beauty and subtly at the expense of its dynamic and symphonic sweep. In the overture, I missed the sound of the swirling ocean as the strings were overpowered by the brass. Forward momentum was sometimes lacking, some slow sections seemed to tax the singers, and there were moments when the music seemed to stop, however briefly. It is a different approach to Wagner than one is used to, and an intriguing one perhaps. 

Michael Volle brought great musicality and intelligence to the tormented Dutchman, who seeks salvation through the unconditional love of a woman. The Dutchman’s opening narrative “Die Frist ist um” showed off the suave beauty and soaring power of his voice. Every word was clear and expressive. Some phrases were sung with soft, Lieder-like elegance. This Dutchman was dejected from the beginning, hesitant to trust another woman, and that sense of doom permeated his acting throughout. The Dutchman’s duet with a dreamy young woman, Senta, was not so much an ecstatic declaration of mutual love as a hesitant acceptance of another’s passion. Both the anger and resignation of his farewell upon Senta’s betrayal was heartbreaking.

Michael Volle (The Dutchman) and Amber Wagner (Senta) © Richard Termine | Metropolitan Opera
Michael Volle (The Dutchman) and Amber Wagner (Senta)
© Richard Termine | Metropolitan Opera

As Senta, Amber Wagner's tremendous voice cut through the orchestra and remained fairly even up to the very high end of the role's vocal range. Her opening ballad showed off her warm and powerful voice, and she went from strength to strength during her duet with the Dutchman. While she seemed to tire a little at the very end, her last declaration of eternal love as she sacrificed herself for the Dutchman’s salvation was thrilling and moving.  

The booming and velvety bass of Franz-Josef Selig was a perfect foil to the doomed pair whose music of otherworldly tonality and texture was alien to her father Daland’s banal and materialistic everyday world, expressed in more conventional music. The tenor AJ Glueckert has a small but beautiful and sonorous voice, and sang the punishing tenor role of Erik with its high-lying tessitura with lyricism and care. Dolora Zajick was luxury casting as Senta’s nurse, Mary, a small part that was a joy to listen to. Ben Bliss’s clear and affecting tenor made one sit up and listen to his Steersman's lullaby early in the opera, and his comic singing and acting in Act 3 blended in with the mighty Met Chorus.  

Ben Bliss (Steersman) © Richard Termine | Metropolitan Opera
Ben Bliss (Steersman)
© Richard Termine | Metropolitan Opera

Mr Nézet-Séguin’s conducting gained urgency and tension in Act 3, as the drama of inner turmoil and domestic bliss of Acts 1 and 2 is thrust into more public domain. As the men and women of the chorus sang and danced to the music of increasingly disintegrating tonality, the orchestra truly came alive with breathtaking thrill and depth of sounds. The last few moments of the music depicting the enveloping sea with its power of redemption, foreshadowing the end of Götterdämmerung to come over 30 years later, were majestic.

AJ Glueckert (Erik) and Amber Wagner (Senta) © Richard Termine | Metropolitan Opera
AJ Glueckert (Erik) and Amber Wagner (Senta)
© Richard Termine | Metropolitan Opera

August Everding’s 1989 production moved the action to early 19th century. While the overall production is a bit dark, especially in Act 1 and part of Act 2, it is straightforward with no complicated stage action. The Dutchman’s ship is a large wall from which he descends on a slanted ladder to perform his monologue, a dramatic if not a treacherous staging. The women do not spin but saw in Act 2, and the drinking party in Act 3 features some ghostly heads. While there is no new insight gained from this production, it detracts nothing from the music and drama on stage which was of very high quality and bodes well for the upcoming new musical chapter of the Met.