Monday, April 26, 2010

26 Apr'10

Music allows Dutchman to soar

Rating: 4 out of 5

Despite what the headlines might have suggested in the past week or two, it seems not all aborted flights can be blamed on the excesses of a rogue volcano, hidden away someplace in the wilds of Iceland.

Case in point: The Canadian Opera Company's production of Richard Wagner's THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (otherwise known as Der Fliegende Hollander) that opened on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre Saturday.

With what appeared to be a capacity audience in their seats for a 7:30 departure, expectations were running high as conductor Johannes Debus raised his baton and launched the COC Orchestra into Wagner's enduring and magnificent score with full and well-placed confidence.

And even though a rising curtain signalled that we might be in for a bumpy ride, there was still reason for hope. After all, the steeply-raked and weathered packing crate designed by Allen Moyer in 1996 for the stage of the Hummingbird Centre has always had a certain solemn grandeur, especially in the opening scenes, and this time out, the more intimate confines of the Four Seasons seem to add to the magic of its forced perspective, if nothing else.

Besides, opera is as much or more a medium of performance as it is of setting and the pre-show buzz on these performers was particularly strong. And happily, this is a cast that, on the whole, certainly doesn't disappoint as they tear into Wagner's soaring score with magnificent skill, tracing the arc of his strange tale of despair, love and ultimate redemption with fierce passion.

With baritone Evgeny Nikitin strongly cast in the title role -- a mariner cursed to sail the seas until he can be redeemed by the faithful heart of a good woman -- soprano Julie Makerov is able to bring a beautiful sense of balance to the role of Senta, the young woman who will ultimately redeem him. Further, their performances are buttressed by some strong, even memorable work in supporting roles -- an earth shaking performance from bass Mats Almgren as Senta's father and a solid and anchored turn from tenor Robert Kunzli as Senta's long-suffering suitor Erik -- and , once again, by the committed artistry of the COC Chorus.

But as in the previous two stagings of this production, it all finally falls victim in the excesses of its design despite the quality the performers bring to it, for while Moyer's sets and costumes have a certain bleak beauty and provide an often wonderful canvas to showcase the impressive skills of lighting designer Anne Militello, that's about all they accomplish.

Certainly, they do very little to showcase either Wagner's vision of love and redemption nor the directoral vision of Christopher Alden, who seems to see the story as some sort of head-on collision between Victorian melodrama and the excesses of existential nihilism, with just a touch of Little Orphan Annie, a wee measure of St. Patrick's Day kitsch and a dash or two of Shakerism thrown in for good measure. While individual elements of the staging impress, they rarely come together to either reinforce or further the story.

And so it all ends in a bit of an artistic draw, for while , finally, THE FLYING DUTCHMAN impresses on many levels, it only ever really soars on the wings of its music.

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