Richard Wagner - Der fliegende Holländer
Wiener Staatsoper, 2015
Peter Schneider, Christine Mielitz, Hans Peter König, Ricarda Merbeth, Herbert Lippert, Michael Volle, Thomas Ebenstein, Carole Wilson
Wiener Staatsoper Live at Home - 11 September 2015
Christine Mielitz's production of Der fliegende Holländer is not as conceptually abstract and modernised as her Parsifal for the Vienna State Opera, but then the questions of mythology and how they are applied are quite different in the two works that span the opposite ends of Wagner's 'mature' period. That's not to say that Der fliegende Holländer can't be radically re-interpreted - as in the recent Bayreuth production - but the 'meaning' or universal application that can be gleaned from such productions seems to be limited to central question of commerce versus the enduring place of myth and art.
Even in its recent half-way house production of the work at the Royal Opera House, Tim Albery's production was able to offer nothing new to those themes, but with Andris Nelsons conducting, it did at least recognise that there is potentially something more to be gained from a careful and close reading of the score. The true worth of Der fliegende Holländer as an opera is there to be found in its compositional structure and developing musical effects. Like all the best ghost-stories it's all about the way you tell it, and getting as close as possible to Wagner's voice is the surest way to successfully put across the work's use of myth and legend.
Which is good in the case of the 2015 performance of this production at the Wiener Staatsoper, because it has Peter Schneider at the helm of the Flying Dutchman. I've never heard Schneider attempt anything radical with Wagner - he doesn't for example have the personal flair that Christian Thielemann or Daniel Barenboim bring to the works - but in terms of how he understands the dynamic of Wagner's work and manages to bring out the full force of the traditional weight and colour of the score, I find Schneider most impressive. He always commands a terrific performance from the State Opera orchestra, and that's the case with this broadcast performance of Der fliegende Holländer.
Christine Mielitz's production seems to hold a similar view that there's nothing to be gained from working outside the traditional idiom with this particular Wagner opera. It appears to be determinedly old-fashioned and out-dated, and perhaps the work itself is somewhat old-fashioned. Wagner's first great breakthrough towards finding his own through compositional voice is a far cry from the Grand Opera stylings of Rienzi written in the same year, but with its use of mythology, its ghost story setting and its theme of Romantic yearning, it's rather more successful on an allegorical level than as a realistic drama. Arguably, the music can do allegorical here better than a stage production can.
If it looks a bit creaky then, that's how the imperfect work itself could be regarded, but the staging and direction are more than just functional. The all-purpose set for the through-composed version of the opera takes place entirely on the ship, its boards curling up at the edges of the stage. The Flying Dutchman is all-consuming as far as the opera goes, as much as its myth drives everyone 'on board'. The direction is not without its dramatic touches and, critically - for all the effect of a ghost-story - it gets them right in all in the key moments. The Dutchman's appearance with his ghost crew is appropriately spooky, and his other appearances are usually accompanied with eerie lighting streaming up from under the deck. Senta's presence, as during the duet with the Dutchman, brings other transformations, and her descent into the blazing fire in the hold at the conclusion is dramatically effective.
What you also have here in this 2015 production, and often reliably find at Vienna, is a good, solid singing cast, even if none of them bring any new dimension to the work or the characterisation. Michael Volle is a superb Dutchman; tormented and driven, he not only sings wonderfully, he also sustains the mood and drama convincingly right through to the conclusion. Hans Peter König is a deep, resonant and secure Daland; Ricarda Merbeth demonstrates great control, delivery and projection; Herbert Lippert impresses in the role of Eric and Carole Wilson is a fine Mary. As part of the Wiener Staatsoper's Live at Home programme, Der fliegende Holländer consequently comes across reasonably well on the screen, but I would imagine with this kind of production it would be much more effective experienced live in the theatre.
Der fliegende Holländer was broadcast live from the Vienna State Opera as part of their Live at Home programme. The next live broadcast is Lev Dodin's production of Mussorgsky's KHOVANSHCHINA on 27th September (reviewed here in 2014). Details of how to view these productions live at home can be found in the links below.
Links: Wiener Staatsoper Live Streaming programme; Staatsoper Live at Home video