Opera review: ‘The Flying Dutchman’ soars in Maine-based reimagining

Opera Maine has stylishly landed another classic story replete with dramatic chills and lots of musical thrills at Merrill Auditorium.

The opera’s annual major production offers a distinctive take on Richard Wagner’s early work “The Flying Dutchman.” The tale of a cursed wanderer of the sea was brought to the 1820 coast of Maine by director Dona D. Vaughn and a talented staff after extensive research with local museums and historical societies. There, among other legendary ghosts in the fog, a cursed seafarer could easily be imagined continuing his eternal search for the redemption of true love.

Seaside images, bounding waves, period costumes and a studied décor, along with a reference to Winterport, localized the German language opera (English supertitles provided), adding a measure of hominess to an 1843 work that has been through many adaptations over the years.

But, of course, it’s ultimately all about the bountiful instrumental music and the expressive singing, and to those ends, Opera Maine assembled a first-rate cast and orchestra to project the Wagnerian sense of dark romance into the far reaches of a well-populated Merrill on opening night.

A leather-clad Mark Delavan was the spectral title character. More forlorn than menacing, Delavan seemed to reach up out of his bass-baritone vocal range at times in his interpretation of tightly wound emotional despair. His work opposite bass Richard Bernstein, as the acquisitive sea captain Daland, created a sort of macho rumble onstage.

Delavan’s duets with Felicia Moore’s smitten Senta, the daughter of Daland who finds the wanderer’s sorrow particularly compelling, achieved a more delicate balance between the revelations of oddly well-matched strong personalities.

Moore’s performance of Senta’s famous romantic ballad was a highlight of the evening with its exquisite melody enhanced by the fine, Israel Gursky-conducted orchestra’s evocative swells. The audience was finally freed, however briefly, from the Dutchman’s indelible high-seas leitmotif.

Cameron Schutza (as Senta’s spurned suitor), Jonathan Boyd (as a tipsy Steersman), and Sahoko Sato Timpone (as Senta’s concerned companion), rounded out the main cast, adding their vocal talents to the touches of melodrama that occasionally drew chuckles from the crowd.

Whether being dizzily storm-tossed, busily spinning wheels or in full, foot-stomping party mode, dozens of male and female choristers, under the direction of Nicolás Alberto Dosman, greatly enriched the production with the auditorium-filling authority long associated with Wagner.

A backdrop of angled wood panels served to give dimension to video and still projections (designers: Germán Cárdenas Alaminos, sets; Alex Basco Koch, projections; and James E. Lawlor III, lighting) while minimal stage-level set pieces brought the coastal flavor of the production home along with the period costumes (Millie Hiibel) and hair and makeup (Karine Ivey).

Opera fans will likely be encouraged by this production to keep scanning the distant horizon for more from Opera Maine.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

Steve FeeneyPortland Press Herald