RIchard Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” with its relatively small cast and minimal set requirements has been a popular choice of opera managements as the vehicle for observing the 200th anniversary of the German composer’s birth-year.
San Francisco Opera unveiled a new production of Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” that incorporates multicolored projected visual images of the ocean, ghost world and cosmos.
[Below: Greer Grimsley as the Dutchman; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
A Solid Cast
Each of its four principal roles was sung by internationally ranked opera singers, led by American dramatic baritone Greer Grimsley, as the mythic Dutchman, condemned to sail the Seven Seas until a woman sacrifices her life for him.
The Dutchman’s salvation is effected by the suicide of Senta (sung by American dramatic soprano Lise Lindstrom), daughter of the Norwegian ship’s captain Daland (sung by Icelandic basso Kristinn Sigmundsson.)
[Below: Lise Lindstrom as Senta; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Although this was Lindstrom’s San Francisco Opera debut, Grimsley and Lindstrom have appeared together in California recently [see Lindstrom, Grimsley, Glassman Gleam in Sensuous, Searing San Diego Opera “Salome” – January 28, 2012].
Each artist brought their requisite gifts – Grimsley’s sturdy, focused baritone that is so impressive in Wagner’s heldenbariton roles, Lindstrom’s gleaming high notes for Senta’s emotion-packed arias.
[ Below Daland (Kristinn Sigmundsson, center front) stands with his crew; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Sigmundsson, sounding in the best voice of any of his recent San Francisco assignments, was an impressive Daland.
British heldentenor Ian Storey sang Erik with the passion and angst one expects of this soul troubled by the incomprehensible behavior of her whom he regards as his true love.
For Storey’s previous appearance in San Francisco, in which he sang the “mature” Siegfried role in the Francesca Zambello “Ring of the Nibelungs”, see “”Götterdämmerung”: Strong Finish to the First Zambello “Ring” – San Francisco Opera, June 19, 2011.
[Below: Erik (Ian Storey, left) attempts to persuade Senta (Lise Lindstrom, right) to forget her obsession with the ghost-ship’s captain; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
(In the 2011 San Francisco Opera “Ring” cycles the young Siegfried was sung by Jay Hunter Morris, who this summer performed Erik in Zambello’s own take on “Hollaender” [Ryan McKinny, Melody Moore, Jay Hunter Morris Soar in “Flying Dutchman” – Glimmerglass Festival, July 18, 2013].)
The smaller parts of Mary and the Steersmen were played respectively by Adler Fellows (resident young artists) Erin Johnson and A. J. Glueckert. Lili Kendaka was costume designer, Gary Marder the lighting designer and Lawrence Pech the choreographer.
Unlike all San Francisco Opera “Dutchman” performances of the past 40 years, this one adds an intermission between the first and second act, rather than playing all three acts consecutively without a break.
The Delight of Sight and Sound
Obviously, a strong cast is a valuable component of an operatic performance. Yet, this production should be regarded, even more than the fine singing of the principals, as a festival of sonic and visual experiences.
[Below: the Dutchman (Greer Grimsley,at front of stage) aboard his ghost ship; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
I have often remarked that the War Memorial Opera House, with its open orchestra pit and lively acoustics, is an extraordinary venue for experiencing Wagnerian opera.
The symphonic sweep of the rousing overture, led by Principal Guest Conductor Patrick Summers and expertly played by the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, is sensual.
[Below: the Dutchman (Greer Grimsley, left) is encouraged by the news that Daland (Kristinn Sigmundsson, right) has a daughter eligible for marriage; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
Overlaying the sonic delights are the visual experiences of the projections.
San Francisco was known in the 1960s for the sensual mix of rock music and psychedelic “light shows”.
Wagner’s symphonic music resounding through the War Memorial amidst the production’s brilliant projections creates an experience that I believe far exceeds those musical light shows of decades past.
[Below: Senta (Lise Lindstrom, center) relates the legend of the ghost ship; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Franciso Opera.]
The Production’s Creative Team
One should derive from my previous remarks that I regard the production as a success.
Every opera production, although usually associated with one name as production designer or stage director, is always a team effort, involving large numbers of skilled artists involved in creating aspects of the production.
[Below: a scene at ocean’s edge; edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
However, this production’s history is unusual.
As originally envisioned it was to be based on a 2011 production of the work created by Petrika Ionesco for the Opéra Royal de Wallonie of Liege, Belgium, which was to be redesigned for the San Francisco Opera’s much larger stage.
However, artistic differences between Ionesco and the San Francisco Opera emerged as to the new production’s staging.
[Below: another of the projections surround the Dutchman (Greer Grimsley, front left) and Senta (Lise Lindstrom, front right); edited image, based on a Cory Weaver photograph, courtesy of the San Francisco Opera.]
A Message from the General Director
On performance night, San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley released the following statement to those of us reviewing the performance: “It is true that I removed Petrika Ionesco from his role as director and scenic designer once the production arrived onstage, as it had become clear that the revisions we had been working on since the Liege premiere were not successful.
“Of the basic scenic pieces designed by Mr. Ionesco, 60% remain. The staging of principals has been considerably simplified, and the use of supernumeraries for various purposes has been virtually eliminated. Many of the projections in the production originated conceptually with Mr Ionesco, but they have been expanded upon and refined by production designer S. Katy Tucker working closely with me and the staff – most specifically with Assistant Director Elkhanah Pulitzer. Our goal has been to tell the story of the opera, clearly, theatrically and musically.”
Final Thoughts and Recommendation
One cannot review the ideas that did not make the “final cut”. Yet, Gockley’s stated goal of “telling the story of the opera, clearly, theatrically and musically” has been met.
The stage direction by Pulitzer (whom the Los Angeles Opera has engaged for its upcoming new production of Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor”) was clear and included some interesting details. As noted above, the series of projections, whether individual ideas were S. Katy Tucker’s or those of others, collectively were brilliantly organized.
Not only do I recommend this production without reservation, I would encourage newcomers to opera to experience one of its remaining performances.
For other recent appearances by Greer Grimsley, see: A Richly Rewarding, Re-imagined “Rheingold” – Seattle Opera, August 4, 2013, and also,
For another performance by Lise Lindstrom, see: Lindstrom, Ventre, Jaho Brilliant in San Diego Opera’s Sensuous, Transcendent “Turandot” – January 29, 2011.