Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987 production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Sweeney Todd at the San Francisco Opera

Did the iconic “off-beat” and “serious” American musical hold the stage of the War Memorial Opera House? The excited audience (standees three deep) thought so and roared their appreciation.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.

Regimented Daughter in Santa Fe

At Santa Fe Opera, Donizetti’s effervescent The Daughter of the Regiment can’t quite decide what it wants to be when it grows up.

Santa Fe’s Celebratory Jester

Santa Fe Opera noted a landmark two-thousandth performance in their distinguished history with a stylish new production of Rigoletto.



Tomas Tomasson as the Dutchman and Elisabete Matos as Senta [Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera]
26 Mar 2013

Flying Dutchman at LA Opera

The Los Angeles Opera company opened its spring season in celebration of Richard Wagner's bicentennial with the composer's The Flying Dutchman, written in 1843.

Flying Dutchman at LA Opera

A review by Estelle Gilson

Above: Tomas Tomasson as the Dutchman and Elisabete Matos as Senta [Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera]


But what exactly is the flying Dutchman — a ship or a person? The French title of the opera is Le Vaisseau fantôme — The Ghost Ship. Indeed, sailors have it that The Flying Dutchman is a ghostly Dutch Man-of-War lost rounding the Cape of Good Hope, which still appears and disappears mysteriously. Christian mythology describes The Flying Dutchman as a person — as the Wandering Jew of the Ocean, who made a pact with the Devil and must wander eternally until he finds a woman who will love him faithfully.

The wonderful aspect of great tales is that they can be anything and everything to whomever encounters them. Even more wonderful is the fact that they are often transformed into deeper, more meaningful and lasting works by writers and composers of genius. Such is the case of Richard Wagner's musical interpretation, which combines both the nautical and Christian myths.

The story that captivated Wagner's imagination was Heinrich Heine's The Memoirs of Herr von Schnabelewopski in which a young woman in love with the portrait of the flying Dutchman, meets the man when he comes ashore to seek a wife — and pledges to love him forever. When he later doubts her love, and unhappily sets sail again, she throws herself into the sea, after which the Dutchman is redeemed by her sacrifice, and their two souls are united forever.

As James Conlon, Los Angeles' engagingly enthusiastic music director and conductor, told an audience in his customary in brief talk before the opera's performance, Wagner's view of the “Dutchman” as a man in conflict with society, was a reflection of his perception of himself as a revolutionary and a genius neither understood nor appreciated by the crass bourgeois world around him. The Dutchman is a societal outcast, doomed to eternal wandering until he can be saved by a woman's love. Salvation by love that leads to death is a theme that will be central to many of Wagner's succeeding works. Senta, the woman who eventually pledges her love to the Dutchman, is also a social misfit, (as is the cursed Kundry of Parsifal, and wrongly accused Elsa of Lohengrin) In this case, Senta who would rather stare at a ghostly portrait, than sit at a spinning wheel as other “normal” young woman do, is jeered and relentlessly teased by her peers.

Unfortunately, the Company used a production created by Nikolaus Lehnhoff in 2001 for Chicago (presented again in San Francisco in 2004) which veers dramatically from Conlon's view of the work.

Among the major disconnects is the opera's costuming. In this production Senta and the Dutchman — the non conformists are dressed in simple loose cloth garments, whereas the sailors are outfitted in cumbersome silvery space suits. The “normal” young women who according to Wagner's libretto spend their time spinning instead of mooning over a flying Dutchman, here, sit around in black tights, black shoes and black and gold hoop skirts. There are even some who spin themselves on black ballet slippers and manage to look remarkably like Hanukkah dreidels.

There is a story disconnect. In Lehnhoff's version of the last scenes the Dutchman turns his back on Senta believing she does not love him, whereupon the desperate and heartbroken Senta, left alone on stage, dons his black cloak and walks into a gathering mist. Not surprisingly my companion, new to this opera, didn't understand the ending.

And there's a physical — as in too much material — disconnect. Though there are some wonderful lighting effects, this is a dark production — sets and costumes are essentially black and steely gray. Yet most of the opera's action takes place behind a scrim — sometimes two scrims. I have no idea what two scrims do to sound, but if one tries to pierce the visual obscurity using binoculars one sees the performers faces nicely graphed.

Musically, the work fared much better, and featured the thrilling Los Angeles Opera debut of native Angelino, Soprano Julie Makerov, as Senta, when moments before the curtain was to go up, Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos, felt too ill to perform. Makerov, who had sung the role before, brought a rich, warm voice and dramatic commitment to the role. Baritone Tomas Tomasson, also debuting with the Company offered a lyrical performance as the Dutchman. James Cresswell, whose baritone seems a shade darker than Tomasson's, was a vigorous Daland. Corey Bix did as well as possible in the thankless role of Eric. Tenor Matthew Plenk, in another of the evening's debuts, was moving in the Steersman's tender aria. Ronnita Nicole Miller, a singer I always enjoy, was Senta's nursemaid. The chorus, which plays such a large role in this work, turned in another of its impressive performances. In an unusual final curtain call, Maestro Conlon,who led a taut performance, had the orchestra — horns, violinists and all mount the stage for their share of applause and cheers.

Estelle Gilson

Click here for cast and production information.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):