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Thread: Der fliegende Holländer at the Cincinnati Opera

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    Opera Lively News Coordinator Top Contributor Member MAuer's Avatar
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    Der fliegende Holländer at the Cincinnati Opera

    Springer Auditorium, Music Hall
    5 July 2018

    Opera in three acts by Richard Wagner

    Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conductor Christof Perick
    Cincinnati Opera Chorus; Chorus Master Henri Venanzi

    Original production and staging: Tomer Zvulun
    Stage Director: Brenna Corner
    Set and Costume Designer: Jacob A. Climer
    Projection Designer: S. Katy Tucker
    Lighting Director: Thomas C. Hase
    Wigs and makeup: James Geier
    Choreographer: Meg Gillantine
    Supertitles Author: Jonathan Dean
    Production stage manager: Megan Bennett

    A co-production with Atlanta Opera and Houston Grand Opera

    The Dutchman: Nathan Berg
    Senta: Marcy Stonikas
    Daland: Arthur Woodley
    Erik: Jay Hunter Morris
    The Steersman: Frederick Ballantine Jr.
    Mary: Elizabeth Bishop

    From the opening notes of the overture to the final euphoric apotheosis, yesterday evening’s performance of Der fliegende Holländer was packed with all the drama and excitement one could want. Under the animated leadership of Christof Perick, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra was in superb form, filling the big Springer Auditorium with glorious sound but never overwhelming those onstage. The cast was uniformly excellent, especially Marcy Stonikas as Senta. As I’d noted when she sang Turandot here a few years ago, she is not a Hochdramatische soprano such as Christine Goerke; rather, she’s a spinto with a strong, very well-focused voice that easily projects over the orchestra. Her singing last night was beautifully warm and opulent, with absolutely secure high notes. Her Dutchman, Nathan Berg, displayed a sonorous bass-baritone that could be masterful, sensuous, or filled with anguish, while Arthur Woodley was outstanding as the venal Daland with his rich bass. Jay Hunter Morris (Erik) produced bright, clarion tone and was up to all of the demands of this difficult roles, delivering ringing high notes with assurance, but still capable of scaling back his big tenor in gentle moments to well-controlled piani. Frederick Ballantine Jr., a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, was back in town to make his Cincinnati Opera debut as the Steersman, and impressed with his attractive, full lyric tenor. Mezzo Elizabeth Bishop lent an equally attractive voice to Mary. Not only did all of the soloists sound wonderful, but each one was fully engaged with his or her character and gave a dramatically credible portrayal. The high standard set by conductor, orchestra, and cast was sustained by the members of the Cincinnati Opera Chorus, who sang and acted with verve.

    Tomer Zvulun’s production was essentially traditional in that there was no tinkering with characters or plot. Events were left in Norway, as indicated by the sailors enthusiastically waving the Norwegian flag in Act I. The time period was indeterminate; set/costume designer Jacob Climer’s full-skirted dresses for the women suggested the 1950s, while Daland’s crew appeared closer to the present day, clad in fishermen’s yellow oilskins and hip-high boots. The Dutchman sported an eye patch, a long red leather coat, and black shirt, plants, and boots that could have come from the 19th century, or earlier. The steering wheel, long ropes, and a white sheet that functioned as a sail represented the fishermen’s ship. The sea vessels themselves were only suggested, Daland’s by the aforementioned props and the Dutchman’s by a projected silhouette. All of the action took place before a tall semi-circular backdrop that appeared to be the interior wall of an early 20th century factory or warehouse, with stairs at stage left and a ladder at stage right rising to a mid-level balcony. Below the high row of windows that circled the entire structure were individual apertures and alcoves. This is an opera that I think can be modernized without loss of dramatic credibility. Where La Traviata is meant to be a slice of real life, representing specific social conditions of an actual period in history, Der fliegende Holländer is basically a ghost story – though, of course, Wagner makes considerably more out of it. Almost from the start, we’re asked to accept that a man has spent centuries at sea, unable to die, because of a supernatural curse. Once we’ve swallowed that idea, it’s not such a leap (so to speak) to believe that a modern young woman would let her father choose a husband for her instead of telling Pops to go jump in the sea.

    This setting worked well in the first act, focusing attention on the characters (including the Dutchman’s zombie crewmembers in their tattered black clothing as they brought out chests of gold and gems for Daland’s perusal). The second act was a bit of a puzzle. Instead of spinning wheels, there were a few sewing machines; all of the women except Senta wore yellow dresses with short blue aprons (or a small blue jacket for Mary), and during the spinning chorus, they were rhythmically whipping around and airing a bunch of white sheets. Was this supposed to be a big laundry for Daland’s ship and crew? Senta toted around a small model of the Dutchman’s vessel when she wasn’t dragging a red sheet that I suspect symbolized his ship’s red sails. In the third act, she scrambled up the ladder and sat down in one of the apertures before finally turning around and flinging herself out the opening – kudos to Ms. Stonikas for clambering all the way up there. She obviously doesn’t have a fear of heights. At the end, the sailors carried in what looked like Senta’s dead body, and I thought director Brenda Corner had opted for a more serious, sober ending to the story. But then the top portion of the backdrop lifted, and we saw the transfigured Senta and Dutchman slowly approaching each other.

    Mention must also be made of S. Katy Tucker’s stunning, atmospheric videos. As the overture was played, abstract images in spooky shades of white, black, and gray were projected on the dropped scrim, swirling, tossing, and drifting like stormy seas, pouring rain, or shifting clouds. Eventually, some color was added, first red for the sails of the Dutchman’s ship, and later, shades of rose, orange, and gold that appeared to be shafts of sunlight breaking through the clouds. In the first and third acts, blurry depictions of the Dutchman’s ghost crew appeared in the backdrop’s apertures and openings. At the curtain, there was cheering and a standing ovation for all involved with this performance, production team included.

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Very happy to hear such a positive review from one of the U.S.’s great regional companies. Also happy that CO invested in an interesting new production - rather than leasing an old production from elsewhere. And great singing, too! WNO should learn the lesson!

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