Here’s a curiosity. It seems that the Paris Opera didn’t entirely turn down the young Richard Wagner’s Flying Dutchman in 1840. Instead they bought the subject from the ever strapped-for-cash composer for 500 francs and gave it to a chum of the director, a former double bass player- cum-composer, Pierre-Louis Dietsch. For the Wagner birthday celebrations, Marc Minkowski came up with the ingeneous idea to perform both the rare original ‘Paris’ version of Wagner’s opera as well as Dietch’s jauntier bel canto confection, Le Vaisseau Fantôme (the Ghost Ship).
The Wagner receives a fine performance with excellent soloists. Russian baritone Evgeny Nikitin makes a spirited Holländer with plenty of textual nuance and lashings of angst,
if lighter in tonal weight than is sometimes the case. He is well matched by his Senta, Ingela Brimberg, occasionally under pressure but often exciting and always committed. The period instruments feel a little thin at times (Wagner was perhaps already demanding more of the orchestras of the day) and Minkowski doesn’t always allow enough breathing space for the drama to land, but when it does, it’s an exciting enough affair.
For the explorer, though, it’s the curiosity of the Dietsch that will draw them in. And how Freudian that the heroine’s name should be not Senta but Minna – Wagner’s long-suffering first wife! It’s a hotch-potch at times – part Weber, on the way to Meyerbeer, with a highly Rossinian storm – but it has its moments (the heroines radiant prayer being one). It receives a committed performance from cast and conductor and the period instruments really do come into their own here. Maybe it’s the Frenchman in him, but Minkowski moulds the orchestral textures far more lovingly than he does in the Wagner. And it’s fascinating of course to see what a more conventional composer made of Wagner’s gothic tale.