The 'Dutchman' sails into the computer age

"The Flying Dutchman" is not my favorite Wagnerian opera. With my theatrical background, I tend to get really irritated, and somewhat bored, when the characters tell me what they've told me - several times already, thank you very much.

That said, Seattle Opera's production of "The Flying Dutchman" has much to recommend it, not the least of which is the magnificent music. Under the baton of Asher Fisch, who did such remarkable work in the Wagnerian oeuvre with his Seattle Opera debut in "Parsifal," the orchestra drew out both the heroic immediacy and the dreamy romance of the work.

Greer Grimsley as the cursed Dutchman, doomed to sail the seas until he finds a woman whose true love will set him free, and Jane Eaglen as Senta were in top form. Seattle Opera audiences have been fortunate to experience this powerful duo's electrifying chemistry, whether in the roles of a dastardly husband and wife in Wagner's "Lohengrin" in 2004 or as Wotan and his wayward daughter, Brünnhilde, in Wagner's "Ring" cycle in 2005. And the pair was at it again on opening night of "The Flying Dutchman." In the scene where the Dutchman and Senta meet for the first time, their instant attraction was a palpable presence even though they were silent for several minutes.

In Grimsley's hands, the Dutchman's agony and fearful hope were tangible and moving, dipping and soaring through both his acting and potent voice. Eaglen, whose warm soprano shuns any hint of harshness when in Wagnerian full force, was an affecting Senta, although her clothing and heavy movements projected a much older character than seemed appropriate.

Jay Hunter Morris' youthful Erik was all awkwardness and rash outbursts. Erik's intense yearning for Senta manifested as much in Morris' voice as his actions. As Daland, Daniel Sumegi displayed a voice as re- assuring as a foghorn on a stormy night, even when his desire for money was challenging his love for his daughter, Senta. Luretta Bybee was a fine Mary, and Jason Collins a mellifluous Steersman.

Wagner's scores really put opera choruses through their paces. With guidance from chorusmaster Beth Kirchhoff, the Seattle Opera Chorus performed with extraordinary precision as a single voice, expressing dramatic intensity in their quietest passages.

Stephen Wads-worth's direction assured numerous telling details, from the woman pinching her cheeks for color before going out to meet the fishermen arriving home to the scene in which the chorus grows increasingly unnerved as the spectral nature of the Dutchman's crew becomes apparent. Still, there were some moments when the move-ment onstage felt stilted.

Seattle Opera's production successfully moves "The Flying Dutchman" into contemporary times. Countering the archaic galleon on which the Dutchman arrives against a modern fishing boat, laptop computers and electricity accentuates just how long the Dutchman has been searching for deliverance.

The only jarring note in Thomas Lynch's otherwise effective set was struck when a white curtain stitched together like a sail dropped from ceiling to floor at the end of the opera. The fabric cleverly did double duty: as a backdrop for the transfiguration of Senta and the Dutchman, and to hide the Dutchman's ship, which is supposed to disappear as soon as Senta leaps to her death. With such a realistic set throughout the rest of the production, however, the curtain felt like an abstract non sequitur.

Joan Arhelger's lighting heightened the ghostliness of the Dutchman's ship, from its first appearance as a shadow in the darkness to the blood-red glow of its sails. Dunya Ramicova admirably geared her contemporary costumes to both the Norwegian locale and the age of each singer, whether a principal or a chorus member.


Seattle Opera,
Marion Oliver McCaw Hall,
321 Mercer St.

Through Saturday, Aug. 25.
Tickets: $25-$162, 389-7676,

Freelance writer Maggie Larrick lives in the Seattle area and is the former editor of the News.

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