Flying Dutchman at the COC

October 7th, 2022 saw the opening night performance of the revival of the Christopher Alden production of the Richard Wagner’s Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) at the Canadian Opera Company (COC.)

The production stars Johan Reuter (The Dutchman), Marjorie Owens (Senta), Franz-Josef Selig (Daland), Christopher Ventris (Erik), Rosie Aldridge (Mary), and Miles Mykkanen (The Steersman.) The COC Orchestra is conducted by the COC Music Director, Maestro Johannes Debus. Allan Moyer designed the costumes and the set. Marilyn Gronsdal is the revival director.

This is the fourth time the production has been mounted by the COC – 1996 and 2000 at the Hummingbird Centre (O’Keefe Centre), and at the Four Seasons Centre in 2010. The producation was supposed to be shown in the spring of 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic.

There is one set that is used for the entire performance – what I have always described as a shoebox at an angle. Depending on where you are sitting, the angle of the staging makes it hard to see the action on the stage. Also, seeing this is an opera that involves the sea and ships, there are no ships and no sea! This has always taken away from the performance. Another issue for me has been some of the costuming. In Act 3, the chorus (and Daland) are wearing green armbands, and there are supernumeriaries who sit under the staging at times to represent the Dutchman’s crew – both the crew and the Dutchman wear pyjamas that are eerily remind me of the outfits worn by prisoners in Third Reich Concentration Camps – both left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. Was the director intending to make the production a discussion about the Third Reich?

Also, at the end of the opera, Senta is shot to death by Erik. She doesn’t jump into the sea to prove her undying love for the Dutchman. The Dutchman also soes not drown, but walks a staircase. I found this odd, confusing, and totally goes against Wagner’s intentions and the music that is being played.

On a side note, the COC decided to add an intermission to the production. The programme (which now costs you $3 unless you are a COC donor) indicated that there was no intermission, nor was there an intermission in this production in the past at the COC. Also, it was placed in the middle of Act 2 – it seems an inappropriate place for the intermission and I found the cut less than satisfying and quite frankly confusing. This is poor planning on who the part of whoever decided that this intermission was even required.

On a positive note, the orchestra under Maestro Debus was outstanding. The storm sounded very real to me (I could close my eyes and see the storm as well!)

The singing for the most part was excellent. The best were Mr. Reuter and Ms. Owens. They owned their characters. Mr. Selig was an excellent Daland – well sung and totally obsessed with his greed for money, in Act 3 he couldn’t even care about Senta. Clearly, once it was obvious that her marriage to the Dutchman wasn’t going to happen, her worth to him didn’t matter. The only weakness in the cast was Christopher Ventris. For the most part, he did a good job but looked older than Senta, which might explain why she wasn’t interested in him, but Erik’s Cavatina in Act 3 was reserved.

While the singing and orchestration were wonderful, I wish that the COC would retire the production and bring in a new production that is closer to what Wagner wrote. Let’s see some ships!

About Edward Brain

I am a long time condo activist and have a background in Business Administration.
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