Wagner • Dietsch
Wagner, penniless in 1840s Paris, claimed he’d been obliged to sell his Flying Dutchman scenario to the Paris Opera. This seemed questionable – until the receipt recently surfaced. The scenario was written up by Paris Opera hacks and set by conductor Pierre-Louis-Philippe Dietsch as Le vaisseau fantôme. Dietsch’s opera sank after a few performances, while Wagner, living in the Paris suburb of Meudon, completed his own version – without the redemption themes of later revisions, and set in Orkney not Norway. Now Marc Minkowski has recorded Vaisseau fantôme alongside Wagner’s 1841 original, on period instruments and with fascinating results.
Even the booklet here echoes The New Grove Dictionary’s claim that Dietsch owed more to Captain Marryat’s popular novel The Phantom Ship, a supernatural farrago resembling a straight-faced Pirates of the Caribbean. This simply isn’t true: Dietsch’s Vaisseau fantôme reads like a hearsay account of Holländer, with the plot and core incidents from Wagner’s work remaining surprisingly recognisable. Ironically, when he later conducted Wagner’s version, Dietsch grumbled about the ‘sharp sea-wind’ blowing out of the score, which only highlights the disparity between his conventional talent and Wagner’s raw genius.
The primal force and darkly mysterious hues of Wagner’s maritime imagery eclipse Dietsch’s nature-painting, and Wagner’s developing leitmotif technique brings a greater sense of unity to his score. Where Wagner is dynamic and driven, Vaisseau fantôme is prolix and stiffly melodramatic – in the respective heroines’ ballads, for example, or when the Dutchman’s crew terrify the mortal sailors. Here Wagner’s scene builds to demonic mockery, while Dietsch merely depicts conventional loud-mouthed pirates. Minkowski and his players give Dietsch all the vitality they can. The cast sings with conviction, notably Russell Braun’s passionate ‘Dutchman’ – here Troil, a Norwegian – and Sally Matthews’s Lucia-like Minna. Nevertheless, Dietsch by turns sounds like Auber, Meyerbeer, even Gounod: elegant, lyrical but never distinctive.
Minkowski’s Holländer, though, is an excellent performance, sweeping, vital and atmospheric, carried along by Evgeny Nikitin’s dark, resentful Dutchman and Ingela Brimberg’s fresh-voiced, edgy Senta. Bernard Richter’s Steersman, Eric Cutler’s Georg/Erik and Mika Kares’s Donald/Daland are more ordinary, but still good. By itself, Holländer would be a leading recommendation; with Vaisseau fantôme, probably an infrequent listen, it’s an expensive prospect.
Michael Scott Rohan