The Flying Dutchman: Wagners Ghost Ship Lands in Maine

Opera Maine has presented vivacious Verdi, delightful Donizetti, magical Mozart, and perfect Puccini over the years, but for the first time the little company that could, dipped its toes into Wagner’s dark and stormy seas by presenting Der Fliegende Holländer– or The Flying Dutchman.

For its maiden voyage into Wagnerian waters, Artistic Director, Dona D. Vaughan presented a no-nonsense, mostly traditional affair aided by technology and, transporting the action to the rocky coast of Maine, drawing on the history of ghost ships in these here waters. The result was a perfect introduction for the Company to enter the realm of Wagner and, for many audiences – judging by the roaring ovation that flooded the house – just the right ticket to draw them in.

Germán Cárdenas-Alaminos’ unit set featured an enormous wooden sea wall onto which various filmed projections effectively set the story’s scenes, from the overture featuring Senta wandering the along the coastline, the tumultuous waves of the sea, the elegant early 19th century wallpaper for the Dutchman’s home, the Dutchman’s ship, and the dramatic finale. Everything came together beautifully with Millie Hiibel’s costumes, James E. Lawlor III’s lighting designs, Alex Basco Koch’s projections and Karine Ivey’s hair and make-up designs.

I was not alone in thinking “Bayreuth” upon taking me seat and seeing the pit lowered to the point of invisibility. From that pit, Maestro Israel Gursky led a well-paced, stirring reading from the orchestra that beautifully put across the ever shifting moods of Wagner’s score. One hears and fully senses the fear of the sailors’ restlessness as well as their drunken revelry, Senta’s longing and defiance, Erik’s frustrated humiliation, the Dutchman’s weariness, Daland’s greed and everything in between. Gursky and his players, painted these portraits with committed sound and (pardon the pun) boat loads of nuance, the quick transitions beautifully charted out.

Portland has a strong choral tradition, and its opera company is no exception. Having said that, I will not think twice stating in this was the finest work I’ve heard from the Opera Maine Chorus, who in addition to their singing clomped about slugging suds and making merry.

On to the principals. In a night of such stellar singing, it is difficult to pick out a single performance as “the one,” but I’m going to do just that. Felicia Moore shook the house with Senta’s pent up passion and obsessiveness over the Dutchman’s portrait hanging above the fireplace mantel. Before her ballad, she ran across the stage, beneath a pair of porticos, striking a frieze-like pose before launching into the tale of the Dutchman’s curse. Here was a voice equal parts lava and silk. The size of the sound was thrilling, with absolutely secure placement, a beautiful warm, and even vibrato, excellent diction and coloring of text. While trying to stay in the moment, I could not help but think what a sensational Ariadne Ms. Moore would be. Her interactions with Mary, the excellent Sahoko Sato Timpone. Erik, her father, and the Dutchman all filtered through with a natural sense of drama, never overdoing anything, just making it all believable and right.

Cameron Shutza had a nice ringing sound as Erik, and matched Senta’s intensity in their great duet.

Long a fan of Richard Bernstein (whose Met performances I’ve seen are too numerous to count) it was a personal thrill to see him in the major role of Daland. His take on the opportunistic father brought a few moments of humor to a tale without much (and in some productions, absolutely none). The voice sounds as fit and beautiful as when I first hear him “this” many years ago. He’s still a handsome son-of-a-gun, too.

Similarly, I’ve seen and heard Mark Delavan many times, but it was a joy to hear his Dutchman. His opening monologue after he steps onto land after the storm, properly pointed the direction for the rest of the story. Better than that, each reappearance of the doomed captain grew in intensity until his final hopelessness, misinterpreting Senta’s intentions, led him back onto his ghost ship.

I was wondering how Senta’s sacrificial jump would be staged, and it wasn’t. Instead, Senta, wildly calling out she is the Dutchman’s salvation, she runs off to join him, and we see the image, first of the ghostly ship heading back to the darkness of the sea – then an image of Senta and the Dutchman, transfigured, if you will, and redeemed. Well, as thrilling and gloriously romantic as the famous closing bars, the audience could hardly wait until the final note before erupting into an ovation that matched the entire performance. More full-throated bravos, bravas, and bravis were screamed out than I can recall hearing in years.

It was thrilling to see the wide range of ages in the house. The number of twenty and thirtysomethings gives me hope for the future of Opera Maine.

The Dutchman’s landing in Maine was the kind of success one dreams of and one they can be justly proud of.