***RECOMMENDED The 2023/2024 season at Lyric Opera of Chicago has set sail. Billed by the company as a "Season of Firsts," their production of Richard Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" marks the very first German opera that Music Director Enrique Mazzola has conducted here at Lyric. Renowned worldwide as an expert of bel canto operas as well as a formidable interpreter of Verdi, Maestro Mazzola -- who championed the recent Early Verdi Series over the past several seasons at Lyric -- should be given an immense amount of credit for tackling the more challenging aspects of any Wagnerian work. Written in 1843, "The Flying Dutchman" is one of Wagner's earliest completed works and is widely considered his first masterwork. It marks an excellent starting point for Mazzola's journey into German Romantic opera. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
But where Mazzola forges ahead into uncharted territory, boldly leading the orchestra through Wagner's complex score with confidence, director Christopher Alden seems to be floundering by comparison. His production has no solid thematic through-line and at present, it lacks cohesion. It can feel like, at times, that the two major artistic forces -- Mazzola and Alden -- are actually working against each other. Alden has made some rather strange choices in the blocking of his singers, especially at the pivotal meeting of the two central characters, and seems to relish in having his performers throw their bodies repeatedly against walls, falling out of chairs or swaying up and down a spiral staircase.
The design elements, unfortunately, don't help to clarify things. Allen Moyer's costumes make it difficult to gauge in what era this production is set. The men, who are all sailors, have very traditional garb yet the women's costumes have much more range and some surreal detailing as well. Is this 1843 or 1943? Anne Militello's lighting design fairs better, but does have a slight flaw. By the final act, when the sailors have spotted the ghost ship, what should have been a moment of eerie or supernatural power, instead devolves into a garish mess as the set is awash in heavily saturated and gaudy green lighting.
It is the performances that are worth your time here, and which garner the recommendation.
The Polish bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny is simply mesmerizing as The Dutchman, a phantom sailor who is forced to sail the seas eternally. He is only allowed to return to land once every seven years in order to seek a true love who will marry him and ultimately break the curse. Lyric favorite Tamara Wilson matches Konieczny measure for measure. This dramatic soprano is stunning as Senta, the young woman who has an extremely unhealthy obsession with The Dutchman -- one that will turn into a fatal attraction. The Finnish bass Mika Kares shines as Daland, a sea-captain and the greedy father of Senta who is more preoccupied with the treasure that The Dutchman will offer him for his daughter's hand than he is for her actual well-being. Eric, Senta's suitor, is sung by tenor Robert Watson, and he is most memorable in his aria in which he relates to Senta his dream of seeing her embrace a mysterious stranger which leads to her doom.
"The Flying Dutchman" is a rare treat. Since it is seldom performed, it is always intriguing to be able to attend a professional production of it. For major fans of Wagner, it offers a plethora of musical surprises. Listen closely during the overture and you will distinctly hear a repeated pattern of notes which sound exactly like The Ride of the Valkyries. Also, during Act II in Daland's home once The Dutchman and Senta have met, you will hear leitmotifs (as well as a very similar narrative) that will reappear in "Tristan und Isolde," Wagner's opera which was composed more than 20 years later.
This production of "The Flying Dutchman" has very solid and emotionally grounded performances from the entire ensemble and chorus, even if it is played out upon an audaciously off-kilter set (also designed by Moyer).
"The Flying Dutchman" continues through October 7, 2023
The remaining performances are:
October 4 at 2:00 PM
October 7 at 7:30 PM
Running time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with no intermission