On Tuesday night, the Metropolitan Opera started a run of The Flying Dutchman, the Wagner opera. It begins with an overture (being an opera and all). A glorious overture it is, too.
I prize a story from Fred Kirshnit, my friend and colleague. Once, his uncle took him to see the Dutchman. After the overture, Uncle Syd leaned over and said, “It’s all downhill from here.”
Well, not quite: there’s plenty of good music in this opera, prefigured by the overture. Still, Uncle Syd has a point.
The Met’s production is that of 1989, by August Everding. There is no action on the stage while the overture is being played. The curtain remains down. Which is right, I think, giving the overture the spotlight, so to speak.
Many in the audience, I’m sure, were especially keen to hear the overture, and the opera, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin. He is set to take over the company as music director in the 2020–21 season.
In the overture, how did he do? Fine. In my view, however, the slowest parts were slightly misjudged. They were too slow, robbing the music of momentum. They were not only slow but flat on the page (which is different). Happily, the horns were fairly solid, as throughout the opera.
Incidentally, the Met’s production has no intermission, which is as Wagner wanted it. The Dutchman is a pretty long sit. Which reminds me: the Met’s abridged version of Mozart’s Magic Flute, for children, is a long sit too—for there is no intermission.
First to sing in the Dutchman is Daland, the Norwegian sea captain, and he was portrayed on Tuesday night by Franz-Josef Selig, the German bass. He started out with a small case of the wobbles. But those were quickly ironed out—and he sang beautifully, royally, nobly. It was a pleasure to hear that sound, and the German language along with it.
The Steersman was an American tenor, Ben Bliss. (What an advantageous name: two one-syllables, and alliterative.) He did lovely and youthful singing.
And the big guy, the Dutchman? He was Michael Volle, the German baritone, much prized as Hans Sachs (in Wagner’s Meistersinger) and as other characters. He was a first-rate Dutchman: smooth, smart, and affecting. He has that mysterious quality called “command.” At a point or two, some rasping sneaked into his voice—but this only proved that we were not listening to a studio recording, thank heaven.
The soprano role of Senta was assigned to Amber Wagner, an American. Back to Fred Kirshnit, for a moment: from him, I learned that the Wagner Society in New York was run for many years by a couple named Wagner (pronounced as in Mayor Robert F. Wagner).
And how is Amber Wagner as a Wagnerian? She was excellent. She has a big voice, darkish. Even at its loudest, this voice is creamy, with no stridency. I was reminded of Deborah Voigt in her (incomparable) prime. Wagner had some funny onsets, repeatedly. But these could be borne, and can be corrected.
Also—this counts, intangibly—she sang with obvious pleasure. She relished the music she had been given—allowed—to sing.
When Selig, Volle, and Wagner sang together, I thought, “That’s a lot of voice up there. That’s the kind of thing the Met should deliver.”
In the small role of Mary, we had what I would call luxury casting: Dolora Zajick, the great mezzo-soprano. Her voice is maybe smaller now. But we still heard that patented Zajick throb.
There is a second tenor role in this opera—more important than the Steersman. He is Erik, and he was taken by AJ Glueckert, another American. He was A-OK. For the most part, he sang naturally and beautifully. I think the role may be a size too big for him.
The music-director-to-be conducted capably. I might have asked for more authority, more gravitas (dread word). Also greater crispness. Many of the orchestra’s entrances were imprecise. Also, the opera dragged at points, I thought. But much was commendable, including the transition from Act II to Act III, which was exciting.
As he took his bows, audience members threw flowers at the maestro. He merrily scooped them up and distributed them to the cast. Those singers towered over him. A man near me said, “He looks like a jockey up there.” Well, the jockey will soon be riding the horse of the Met.
For Amber Wagner, they screamed. Really, truly screamed. This was a true opera response, and right. (I think a little more screaming for Volle was in order, too.)
You will know what I mean when I say the following: on Tuesday night, Wagner’s Flying Dutchman was well represented. This was a true Dutchman, a real Dutchman—which is a very satisfying experience.
UPDATE: I am told that audience members did not throw flowers at Yannick Nézet-Séguin. Rather, orchestra members did. About which, any number of remarks could be made . . .