Der Fliegende Hollander

Composed and written by Richard Wagner
Met Opera on Demand
Metropolitan Opera House, New York

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Evgeny Nikitin and Anja Kampe Credit: Ken Howard
Der Fliegende Hollander Credit: Ken Howard
Der Fliegende Hollander Credit: Ken Howard

Richard Wagner always maintained that Der Fliegende Hollander marked the real beginning of his career. He takes his inspiration from Heinrich Heine’s satirical novel, Memoirs of Herr von Schnabelwopski, and his own trip up the Norwegian fjords in 1839 when he was 26.

The opera premièred in 1843. The overture in its surging fury gets the legend off to an exciting start; the storm is a chilling blast from hell.

The Dutchman has been sailing the seas in a ghost ship ever since the real ship sank off the coast of Good Hope in 1631. Doomed to sail for eternity, he longs for the Day of Judgement when he will be released from his torment. The only way to find redemption is to find a faithful wife to save him. Every seven years, he drops anchor but faithful wives, as everybody knows, are very hard to come by.

Francois Girard’s stylized production for The Metropolitan Opera House, New York, conducted by Valery Gergiev, premièred in 2020. Anja Kampe made an impressive Met debut as Senta, who has had a crush on the Dutchman ever since she was a little girl. She is fixated by a portrait of him. Overwhelmed with pity, she is convinced she alone can save him.

Lots of artists have painted the phantom ship. Nobody famous, as far as I know, has painted the Dutchman. So, what does he look like? Evgeny Nikitin, a powerful mien, looks like he would be good casting for the Ancient Mariner. He is far too old and weather-beaten for a romantic girl like Senta. Nikitin and Kampe look like father and daughter.

Serey Shoroklhodov as Erik, the young huntsman who loves Senta, sings with such tenderness and anguish; but he looks very immature in her Wagnerian presence.

Girard has done away with the spinning wheels and given the girls ropes which hang from the flies to play with. Every member of the cast is also given a very large gold nugget, so bright they serve as torches in the ghostly, dark and gloomy void. The high spot is the chorus in act 3 trying to make contact with the sailors aboard the phantom ship only to discover they are all dead.

What I missed most in this production was a truly frightening digital image of the phantom ship.

There are a number of ways of tapping into this opera and others at will. The Met Opera on Demand service offers annual ($149.99) and monthly ($14.99) subscriptions as well as a one-off payment ($4.99) for those who have limited time or only want to watch the occasional opera.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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