Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production 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).

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

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.

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.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

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.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

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.



The Dutchman and Senta at San Francisco Opera [Photo by Cory Weaver]
24 Oct 2013

Der Fliegende Holländer in San Francisco

Train wrecks are fascinating events, huge forces collide, brutal destruction results. Investigators rush to the scene to explain how and why it happened.

Der Fliegende Holländer at San Francisco Opera

A review by Michael Milenski

Above:The Dutchman and Senta at San Francisco Opera

Photos © Cory Weaver courtesy of San Francisco Opera


That is more or less what happened last night at San Francisco Opera. Though the forces for Der Fliegende Holländer are relatively modest — three principal singers live the drama, three more offer background story; orchestrally there are but double winds, (except triple trombones and five horns). San Francisco Opera beefed up its chorus to a grandiose seventy-eight, after all it is a Wagner anniversary, and there were a few extra strings as well.

But Der Fliegende Holländer is the inauguration of Wagner’s uniquely fertile exploration of redemption through love, and it is emblematic of the tragic idealism that exponentially enriches nineteenth century art. It is conceptually and philosophically big art.

San Francisco Opera partnered with the Opéra Royal de Wallonie (a province of Belgium), that has a sizable presence in French provincial opera for this new production of Dutchman conceived by French/Romanian director Petrika Ionesco. Mr. Ionesco is known to San Francisco audiences for the Théâtre du Châtelet (Paris) staging of Cyrano de Bergerac seen two years ago at the War Memorial — a swashbuckling, cinematic conception that made the most of a slight opera for a broad audience. Mr. Ionesco has staged both Aida and Nabucco at the 80,000 seat Stadt de France and Continents on Parade at EuroDisney.

For those of us who did not see the Vaisseau Fantôme in Liège accounts say it began with Senta alone on stage in a cemetery (Senta does not appear in the libretto until the second act) and ended with Senta freezing to death among the same tombstones — the opera became Senta’s dream (Senta works in a factory that makes clothing and sails for sailors thus in her dream piles of cloth had become tombstones by means of tricky lighting).

In Liège the Dutchman flew onto Daland’s ship attached to a huge anchor to seek protection from the opening storm. Then there was some sort of science fiction action that accompanied the Dutchman to a fantasy place of skeletons and cloaks where he tells his tale of woe. The production was said to have been tuned to appeal to a broad public, maybe becoming a bit like a Stephen King novel.

Dutchman2_SFOT.pngGreer Grimsley as the Dutchman

Strange to say it was not until the production was actually onstage at War Memorial that the current artistic politic of San Francisco’s opera house determined that the production did not conform. Mr. Ionesco and his ideas were dismissed. A fast attempt was made to re-stage the opera by summarizing the action. Senta still began the opera alone on stage but there were no tombstones, and finally she leapt to her death from the remnant of a raised hatch from the Act I ship (though there was no idea where she landed as by that point we had no idea where we were). But it did not seem to be freezing and there was not a tombstone in sight. All this was hardly Ionesco’s adolescent dream, in fact it was simply a walk through of the libretto.

The Dutchman walked on and off the stage from downstage right or left with absolutely no visual magic or fanfare even though he is a phantom hero. He stood totally alone in front of the red lighted fantasy space to deliver his extended monologue as best he could. The considerable snowfall in Act I and the clumsy every-once-in-a-while projections of icebergs that could have dramaturgically motivated a death by freezing remained unexplained, arbitrary atmospheres.

It would have been heroic salvation had conductor Patrick Summers been able to redeem this fiasco through enthralling music. This was not the case, the maestro sought always a richness of orchestral description and color rather than a realization of music drama. Tempos were generally relaxed rather than charged with meaning, apparent first in the leaden overture, and burdensome particularly in the Dutchman monologue and the big Senta ballad. The maestro’s tempos never discovered the joys of a good wind nor found the terrors of a great storm, both stupendous expressive moments in Wagner’s first masterwork.

Mo. Summers is however particularly attuned to his singers, and some very fine, if meaningless performances resulted, most notably the Dutchman himself, enacted by American bass baritone Greer Grimsley. We can assume that the character Mr. Grimsley portrayed on the stage was created for the Ionesco production. The Dutchman was a suffering, vulnerable human man that Grimsley brilliantly portrayed both physically and vocally. He possesses a quite beautiful voice that he colored in many tonalities to fill his monologues with precise and genuine information and feeling.

Summers offered the same support to the Steersman, beautifully sung, and made real by Adler Fellow, tenor A.J. Glueckert. Welsh tenor Ian Storey created an Eric, Senta’s intended, who came across as more threatening than hurt. With a presence more Tristan than as a Hanseatic lad he sang Wagner’s quite felt music beautifully, perhaps too much so for the Ionesco character. His too frequent use of sotto voce was bothersome. Conductor Summers gave Senta’s father Daland the gruffness inherent to Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson’s persona and voice, a gruffness that resonated as well in the truly plodding tempos the maestro imposed on the dances that begin the third act.

Dutchman3_SFOT.pngIan Storey as Eric, Lise Lindstrom as Senta

Originally German soprano Petra Maria Schnitzer was cast as Senta. She was replaced by American (San Francisco) soprano Lise Lindstrom who is a fine singer well suited to the Turandot role she frequently sings on the major stages. Hers is not a voice of youthful sweetness or lyricism that might make Senta a mythical nineteenth century angel of death, but it did serve to portray Ionesco’s neurotically obsessed young woman. Intelligence gathered while the elevator descended to subterranean parking levels reveals that some of us thought she stole the show.

Hopefully such events as this Dutchman are once in a century.

Michael Milenski

Casts and production information:

Dutchman: Greer Grimsley; Senta: Lise Lindstrom; Erik: Ian Storey; Daland: Kristinn Sigmundsson; Steersman: A.J. Glueckert; Mary: Erin Johnson. Chorus and Orchestra of the San Francisco Opera. Conductor: Patrick Summers; Director/Set Designer: Petrika Ionesco; Costume Designer: Lili Kendaka; Lighting Designer: Gary Marder; Projection Designer: S. Katy Tucker. War Memorial Opera House, October 22, 2013.

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):