Compositions: Die Fliegender Holländer
Performers: Samuel Youn bar, Ingela Brimberg s, Les Musiciens du Louvre, Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Marc Minkowski
Catalogue Number: Naxos 2110637 (DVD), NBD0099V (Blu-ray)
With its ghostly anti-hero, obsessive heroine and a plot littered with Freudian symbols, The Flying Dutchman is the ripest of Wagner’s early operas for a psychological deep dive. He may not show us a ship, a spinning wheel, or a portrait, but that is what Olivier Py does in this intellectual, brilliantly conceived, and occasionally baffling 2015 staging for Theater an der Wien.
Py is working from Wagner’s 1841 Paris version. Senta’s father becomes Donald, her lover is called Georg, and crucially there is no “redemption” motif at the end of the overture or at the conclusion of the drama. His vision is supported by Marc Minkowski’s highly charged account of the score played by his excellent original instrument band Les Musiciens du Louvre. It’s a cracking reading with brilliantly incisive strings, lithe woodwind and not a bum note in sight from the brass.
Py draws parallels between a theatre (Wagner’s natural domain) and a ship (not his natural domain), with sailors who resemble stagehands and a physical representation of the Dutchman’s nemesis Satan, here shown at the top of the show making up as an actor (although played by a dancer). At other points, Senta chalks “Erlösung” (Redemption) on the rear wall, the Spinning Chorus is sung by a women’s glee club and a naked girl cringes beneath a bed at the approach of the predatory Dutchman.
Played out in stylish black and white on Pierre-André Weitz’s ingenious, frequently revolving set, actors and set elements come and go to sometimes dizzying effect. There’s a dreamlike quality to the action – something only has to be mentioned and it magically appears. The graveyard that springs up at the Dutchman’s feet, the waves that appear at the end, the skull and skeletons, are all theatrical coups. It’s sometimes brain-taxing, yet never less than theatrically engaging and dramatically compelling.
As the Dutchman, Samuel Youn sings with incisive power and great attention to text. Ingela Brimberg’s Senta is viscerally felt with thrilling top notes, if occasionally strident, while Bernard Richter’s warm-toned tenor is spot on as Georg. Lars Woldt’s grasping bully of a Donald raises a nasty misogynist flag about the world in which his daughter is bartered and sold. François Roussillon’s astute video direction manages to focus the action without losing the appropriate sense of scale. Sound – especially orchestral detail – is excitingly meticulous.