There is a moment in the Wagner Days production of Der fliegende Holländer at Müpa Budapest that is so powerful it threatens to blow people out of the concert hall in a hurricane of sound. That is the moment when the crew of the ghost ship The Flying Dutchman, taunted by rowdy, carousing Norwegian sailors, awake from their silence of the dead and unleash the hell hounds, sonically speaking.

John Lundgren (Dutchman) © Gábor Kotschy | Müpa Budapest
John Lundgren (Dutchman)
© Gábor Kotschy | Müpa Budapest

The battle of the choirs is a thrilling moment in just about any performance of Dutchman, but it produces shock and awe in the live acoustics of Budapest's Béla Bartók Concert Hall. That is especially so when two of the country's best, the Hungarian Radio Choir and the Hungarian National Choir, under respective choirmasters Zoltan Pad and Csaba Somos, are blasting away at each other.

And while that alone is worth the price of admission to this modestly priced Wagner series, given each year in June in the Müpa complex on the banks of the Danube, the revival of a 2015 production by Hungarian director Balázs Kovalik had a lot more going for it.

We'll get to Kovalik's onstage deployment of washing machines stuffed with teddy bears, but first high marks to a stellar cast that was every bit a match for the superb-sounding choirs, and the thrilling playing by the Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under German conductor Michael Boder.

<i>The Flying Dutchman</i> © Gábor Kotschy | Müpa Budapest
The Flying Dutchman
© Gábor Kotschy | Müpa Budapest

Swedish baritone John Lundgren made a superb Dutchman, bringing a dark and urgent style to the plight of the wandering mariner who gets to come ashore once every seven years to find the faithful mate who will follow him to death. His brooding good looks went a long way to explain why Senta, sung by fellow Swedish soprano Elisabet Strid, falls for him at first sight. She succumbs so quickly she almost forgets she is betrothed to the earnest woodsman Erik, ably sung by German-based American tenor Ric Furman. That Strid has a voice that one aficionado said reminded her of a young Nina Stemme singing the same part decades ago helps explain why she and Lundgren formed a perfect vocal partnership.

Rounding up the principals were Chinese bass Liang Li, bringing a suitably oily style to the role of Senta's father, who accepts a suitcase full of treasure to marry off his daughter to the Dutchman. Hungarian soprano Bernadett Wiedemann brought a lovely sureness of tone, and graceful acting style, to the role of Mary, Senta's maid who in Kovalik's rethink of Wagner's 1841 opus is an opera singer and earlier paramour of the Dutchman, who has been reimagined as a globe-trotting opera star.

Elisabet Strid (Senta) © Gábor Kotschy | Müpa Budapest
Elisabet Strid (Senta)
© Gábor Kotschy | Müpa Budapest

There is plenty more in this vein, perhaps too much. But the director is proud that his 2015 staging, which focuses on the plight of a star-struck and sensitive young woman like Senta trapped in a provincial fishing village surrounded by chauvinist thugs like her dad, caught the zeitgeist of women fighting back against male oppression and predation. "We did it three years before #MeToo," Kovalik said in an interview. "We set it in this place."

Kovalik, directing his first Wagner opera, said he was drawn to Dutchman because it is the least ideological and mystical of the composer's works. "He wrote this in a very short time and he couldn't think too much about it, it is a very instinctive piece," he said.

Kovalik's main prop is a tall, ribbed multi-purpose structure that stands in for the Dutchman's ship, Senta's home and the factory where she works. It also allows various singers and choristers to hang precariously from dizzying heights, adding a touch of high-wire drama.

Ric Furman (Erik) © Gábor Kotschy | Müpa Budapest
Ric Furman (Erik)
© Gábor Kotschy | Müpa Budapest

There are also laughs, for example early on when child versions of Erik and Senta romp on stage with a teddy bear, and Erik engages in what Kovalik says is innocent cross-dressing. And then there are those washing machines, a half dozen of them, wheeled on stage by a bevy of laundresses and standing in for Senta's usual sewing factory. The machines are lit from within, so you can't miss the teddy bears inside. Erik played with a teddy bear as a child, but now he has had to conform?

"I can make an analysis but I think you understand the picture of the washing machines with the teddy bears," Kovalik said. "I don't have to tell exactly what it is, you feel it."

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