Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Der fliegende Holländer - Theater an der Wien

From the edgy, innovative Theater an der Wien, a new production of Wagner Der fliegende Holländer which will have some screaming. But the joke is on them. For one thing, it's set in Scotland, not Norway, which might discomfort those who think the first line of a synopsis is sacred writ. No Daland, but Donald, no Erik, but Georg. \In the first part of the 19th century, Scotland symbolized a kind of generic wilderness on the edge of civilization, where extreme situations could happen. Hence the Romantiker notion of Scotland that runs through Lucia de Lammermoor, through the craze for Ossian and later Sir Walter Scott. .Even Mendelssohn was caught up in the quest. Scotland as romaticized prototype. Significantly, Wagner himself relocated the plot to Norway.

This production is based on the Ur-edition, curated by Bruno Weil  some 15 years ago, which Wagner wrote in Paris in 1841, before  the premiere of the opera in Dresden in January 1843. Weil  recorded this version in 2004, and it has been done several times in small houses, as an internet search can reveal.  This Theater an der Wirn production is in another league, and gives it the high profile exposure it deserves,and adds immensely to our understanding of Wagner's creative processes.  There are mother differences.. The work was conceived to run as a whole piece, the practice of including intervals  introduced at Bayreuth in 1901. Senta's ballade "Trafft Ihr das Schiff" is transposed  upwards, which gives it a more fragile quality, and some familiar details in the orchestration are less prominent, though the recurring Steuermann theme shines nicely.

We're confronted by a bleak grey wall. But then, so is Senta,  who isn't happy with conventional society, but fixates on the portrait of a demonic figure who sails the oceans under a curse. Taking a piece of chalk, the woman writes the word Erlösung on the wall. Graffiti as a gesture of rebellion. Erlösung means redemption, which would become a familiar meme in Wagner's dramas, but also means a way out of a dilemma. In a corner, away from the greyness, a man sits, putting on makeup before a brightly lit mirror.  He's a dancer. Why dance in  Der fliegende Holländer ? Why not, if the opera was originally conceived for Paris ? In an opera which predicates on surreal states of consciousness, the dancer reminds us that there are presences we can't initially comprehend. Don't rush to judgement.  When the village parties, the sailors from the ghost ship materialize as dancers.  It's an extremely effective coups de théâtre.

Samuel Youn sings the Holländer with great presence.  Youn's Holländer is no big mean brute, but a surprisingly sympathetic personality.  When he rejects Senta's sacrifice, the nuances in Youn's voice suggests the heartbreak the Dutchman feels. For a bass baritone, Youn's voice is surprisngly agile, which can be an advantage. Ingeln Brimberg sings Senta, Lars Woldt sings an superbly snarky Donald, and Bernhard Richter sings Georg. Manuel Günther. sang the Steuermann.   Ann-Beth Solvang sang Mary, her chorus of seamstress (the Arnold Schoenberg Choir)  shown as choristers, quite appropriately.

I don't know who the main dsdancer is, but he's good, his athletic physicality particularly effective he and his colleagu3es are dancing the Holländer's crew. They're athletically physical, more like demons than ghosts, which is a valid perspevctive.  "They don't need to dance with girls" the villagers sing, and  surer enough one of the trio of dancers is a man dressed as a woman. Not quite the Three Graces.  Marc Minkowski conducted the Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble. They use period instruments, as Weil did in his recirding, but here the playing is much more vigorous, even pugnacious, reflecting Minkowski's strong minded style.   Oliver Py directed, with atmospheric  designs by Pierre-André Weitz. Watch the "ship" emerge, in the form of a huge, shining metallic skull.  When the ,Holländer's sailors come on land, all hell seems to break loose.  Skeletons are seen dancing.: it's a trick of light, for the dancers are holding the bones against their bodies. If, until now, the set has been gloomy - what would one expect is such a tale - now the stage is lit with garish greens, blues and reds. We're not in rural Norway now.  The Dutchman heads to sea, almost swallowed min waves, created from shiny black rubber, billowing with air from below. Below, as in Hades.  Senat "jumps in". No happy ending here, but all the more dramatic for that. At the very end the grey wall returns. This time, however, the woman writes |"Ewartung". Hope at last.

Original Content: Der fliegende Holländer - Theater an der Wien

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