Monday 12 May 2008

Superb Konwitschny production of The Flying Dutchman in Munich

Anja Kampe as Senta

The Flying Dutchman. Bavarian State Opera, Munich. May 11th, 2008. Production: Peter Konwitschny. Cast: Alan Titus (Dutchman), Anja Kampe (Senta), Peter Rose (Daland), Robert Dean Smith (Erik). Further information here. Cond: Philippe Auguin.

In brief, Peter Konwitschny has succeeded in creating a superb production of The Flying Dutchman for the Bavarian State Opera. Not only has he successfully updated the action to present day, but in so doing, he manages to provide new insights into the motivations and relations of the main characters. Together with his Tristan and Elektra, I wouldn´t hesitate to judge this one of his finest works. Furthermore, Konwitschny communicates his points clearly and precisely to the audience (read: I actually understood what he was trying to say without having to read the accompanying booklet!), which is far from always the case (read: Just have a look at his Parsifal production).

This Flying Dutchman production opened at the Bavarian State Opera in 2006, a theater by now quite accustomed to Peter Konwitschny´s quirky Wagner stagings, with both his Parsifal and Tristan in the current repertoire. This didn´t prevent one spectator from booing extremely loudly just seconds before the curtain fell yesterday. And this production, with specific attention to the controversial ending, has indeed divided audiences, though most end up on the positive side.

Even for those not previously familiar with Konwitschny´s work, a quick look at the cast list revealing An Angel indicated not all to be as in the Dresden 1843 world premiere.

The core elements of the piece (ie. the doomed Dutchman stepping ashore once every seventh year to search for redemption through faithful love) remains intact with Konwitschny, who essentially follows the storyline as Richard Wagner himself would recognize it.

There is not much controversy in Act one: The gangways from the two ships are lowered successively from each side of the stage amidst a heavy storm. The Dutchman and his crew arrive directly from the 16th (or somewhere close) century into Daland´s world of today. I suppose, if countless women have been damned as the failed to be faithful to the Dutchman, some time must indeed have passed...

On stage we look at painted rocks and bending naked trees on a backdrop of the raging sea. So traditional, that you intuitively know that it will not last. The Dutchman with his crew (with more than a slight touch of Pirates of the Caribbean not least when he opens a trunk filled with golden treasures) meet with Daland in plastic chairs on the shore. The character ”An angel” already entered during the Dutchman monologue (Die frist ist um) at the exact point where the Dutchman mentions the bargain attained for him in heaven by the angels. Throughout the opera, An Angel follows the Dutchman and Senta at decisive points and silently tries to influence the action (ie. help the Dutchman).

On to Act Two, which takes place in…a fitness center – more precisely in a spinning class, each woman spinning on her bicycle (anyone who doesn´t get the word play?). But there is more to this scene than the dual meaning of the word spinning: It somehow seems fitting that contemporary women would meet in this way. Senta arrives late, carrying with her a painting of the 16th century Dutchman. In effect, it might as well have been George Clooney she was infatuated with. The Dutchman, of course, is completely out of place in the fitness center and he carries with him a 16th century bridal gown for Senta to wear. How can this last? Of course, Senta is not interested in Erik, arriving in a bath-robe directly from the shower, it seems.

Act Three opens with the locals partying in the harbour with a clear view at the looming sea in the background. The Pirates of the Caribbean are sulking alongside several long tables at one side of the stage, finally chasing the locals off, who then return a bit later, armed and prepared for fight (to no avail, as it turns out). After overhearing the conversation between Erik and Senta (he claims that she has broken her vows to him), the Dutchman then decides to leave. What does Senta do? Well, in her advanced state of exaltation, she then fetches a barrel, rolls it onto center stage, sets it on fire and virtually blasts everyone (including the audience) away in a quite impressive demonstration of special effects risking temporary (at least) hearing impairment for those sitting in front of the auditorium, not to mention the cast and chorus.

Musically, the evening was more bland. Anja Kampe basically has a lyrical voice and interprets Senta accordingly. Her voice is somewhat fluttery near the top, but she nevertheless convinces in the part, dramatically as well. Does she really have the middle register to support the Isolde she will be singing in Glyndebourne next year? That remains to be seen, I suppose…

Apart from the dress, Alan Titus does not have much in common with Johnny Depp´s Caribbean Pirate. With all due respect I found him in rather dry voice and he didn´t seem to catch on interpretatively either. Now where is Juha Uusitalo, who usually sings the Munich-Dutchman? (a rhetorical question, since I am well aware that he is in Vienna for the Siegfried-Wanderer). Next season offers the opportunity to see what kind of pirate Bryn Terfel will make. Also not a particularly memorable performance from the otherwise fine British bass Peter Rose as Daland. Robert Dean Smith, also essentially a lyrical singer, for once managed to sound rather large-voiced as Erik..obviously the company is rather more thankful here than when I heard him (or rather almost didn´t) next to Waltraud Meier in Madrid.

The orchestra played well under Philippe Auguin, but unfortunately with almost no intensity.

In summary, it all adds up to a highly successful production in which Konwitschny manages to take a fresh look at the work without loosing the perspective. It would be a most welcome addition to the DVD-Dutchman catalogue, provided some adjustments are made in the cast.

1 comment:

Bogda said...

Btw. This production was initailly staged at the the Bolshoi theatre, Moscow in 2004, and was later transferred to Munich in 2006

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