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The Flying Dutchman – Review of 2022 Canadian Opera Company Production

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The Flying Dutchman CAST AND CREATIVE TEAMS Conductor: Johannes Debus Original Director: Christopher Alden Revival Director: Marilyn Gronsdal Set & Costume Designer: Allen Moyer Lighting Designer: Anne Militello Intimacy Coordinator: Lisa Stevens Price Family Chorus Master: Sandra Horst The Dutchman: Johan Reuter Senta: Marjorie Owens Daland: Franz-Josef Selig The Steersman: Miles Mykkanen Erik: Christopher Ventris Mary: Rosie Aldridge

The Canadian Opera Company is back for a full season of productions and that is great news. Its 2022-2023 season opened with The Flying Dutchman and will be followed quickly with a production of Carmen.
The Flying Dutchman was scheduled for the 2020 season but the pandemic played a dirty trick on scheduling the opera as well as much of the world. This production is a revival of the 2010 COC staging by Christopher Alden with Marylin Gronsdal as the revival director.
There is some superb singing in the production. Marjorie Owens has a big, dramatic voice and she sang a convincing and moving Senta. For the beautiful Senta’s Ballad she modulates her voice, sings softly where necessary and ascends the high notes and vocal flourishes splendidly. She recounts the Dutchman’s story, a man looking for a faithful wife who will break his curse and redeem him.
Bass Franz-Josef Selig has a grand voice with marvelous sonority. His Captain Daland dominates the singing when he is on stage. Baritone Johan Reuter has a fine voice but it is not big and this worked to his disadvantage when singing with Selig. He is at his best in the great duet “Wie aus der Ferne” with Senta. He thinks he has found the faithful woman of his dreams and Senta believes she has found the man of her dreams. A scene and a duet to be cherished as done by Reuter and Owens. That tone continues when they confirm their love and their union.
Tenor Miles Mykkanen was a vigorous Steersman and tenor Christopher Ventris made a well-sung and passionate Erik.
The COC Orchestra and COC Chorus gave stirring performances on their own. Johannes Debus conducted masterful performances by both groups.
Alden fashioned an imaginative production that is very striking while at the same time being eye-brow raising. The set by Allen Moyer consists of a large, gray room with a relatively low ceiling. It is somewhat tilted and shows a dimly lit and narrow area below which may be the hull of a ship or a view of the underworld.
The opera has at least two ships, the Dutchman’s and Captain Daland’s but while this production may have some suggestion of a ship, none is visible at all. Nor is there any indication of a harbour or the sea. The set’s grey tiles make some of the characters who are dressed in gray almost disappear. Much is made of the dutchman’s ship and I found seeing nothing but a tilted room most of the time, disconcerting.
The scene with the spinning women is brilliantly staged. The women gesture in unison their spinning as they are seated or standing up by high-backed chairs. The COC Chorus sings gorgeously in this colourful and wonderful scene.
The COC Chorus excels in the boisterous and rousing “Steuerman, lass’ die Wacht!” where both the men and women of the give their best. For some reason, the sailors wear green armbands and the merry-making is very rowdy. The stage lights change into a kaleidoscope of colours that I suppose to simply emphasize the fun. But I could not understand the armbands which looked almost ominous.
In the end, the Dutchman feels betrayed and leaves, a desperate man still in search of the faithful woman who will save him. Senta tears away from everyone and runs to a rocky edge. She flings herself into the sea and the Dutchman’s ship sinks. But
as it sinks, we see the Dutchman and Senta rise from the water and rise toward heaven. He has found redemption and apotheosis. It is a staggering image and a stunning conclusion to the opera.
Unfortunately, Alden does not see it that way. In his version the distraught hunter Erik aims his shotgun at Senta and shoots her as she is clutching the Dutchman’s portrait. He escapes up the winding stairs and are we to assume there is no redemption and no transfiguration?
You may disagree with Alden’s take on the opera but you will or should enjoy the production for its many superb virtues from Johanne Debus’ and the COC Orchestra’s and Chorus’s performance and the superb singing.
The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner opened on October 7 and will be performed a total of seven times until October 23, 2022, on various dates at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen St. West Toronto, Ont. www.coc.ca

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