I think Richard Wagner must have been a difficult man to live with. Have you ever noticed that his solution to most relationship problems is the death of both parties? (Wouldn’t it be fun to have an “Ask Richard Wagner” advice column? People could write in about their personal problems and . . .actually never mind; this would be a terrible idea.)
Anyhow. One of the things abut regie or regie-leaning productions is that in some ways they’re necessarily more in conversation with other versions of the opera, because in order to understand what’s in front of you it helps to know what you aren’t seeing.
This production of Der Fliegende Holländer has the advantage of being both unconventional and straightforward – there are ideas here, but they’re executed in such a way that you know both what you’re seeing and what you aren’t.
During the overture we’re given views, in black and white, of clouds and a stormy sea, with close-ups, also in black and white, of the orchestra. I could have done without all the superimposed orchestra shots on the clouds – it seemed a bit much to me – but I guess beating the viewer over the head with the connection between the music and the unruly elements is not a crazy thing to do.
Most of the action takes place in a brightly lit white space with a double row of glass doors at the rear. In Act I the set looks like a cruise ship of which Daland (Robert Lloyd, in aviator glasses and a smarmy mustache) is the captain. The chorus, rather than being sailors, wander about confused, in shorts and flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts and life vests – they are tourists, and the storm has left them completely (as it were) at sea. There are women mixed in with the men, although the latter do the singing here. When the steersman (Oliver Ringelhahn) is left on watch, he strips a gold sequined jacket from an apparently unconscious lounge band member to gussy himself up for his song about the south wind, for which he is provided with a spotlight.
The set changes only slightly for the second act. There is a swimming pool behind the double doors, and the scene is not ‘busy household’ but rather ‘spa.’ The women’s chorus are all in bathrobes or in their skivvies, busily dolling themselves up in fancy dresses and bright lipstick for the return of their men. Senta (Catherine Naglestad) is the odd one out. She is dressed in black (her costume matches that of the Dutchman) and she is, as the libretto says, spinning. She’s the only one, though. The staging, with all the other women manifestly not spinning or engaging in household labor, sharpens their taunting of Senta. And her picture of the Dutchman is not a picture of the Dutchman – it’s a picture of the sea. The Dutchman is perhaps only a proxy for what Senta really wants, which is out.
And this is where those doors come in.
(Next section here.)