Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer

LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer
WORKS: Der fliegende Holländer
PERFORMER: Franz-Josef Selig, Ricarda Merbeth, Tomislav Muzˇek, Christa Mayer, Benjamin Bruns, Samuel Youn; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus/Christian Thielemann; dir. Jan Philipp Gloger


Your reaction to this performance will depend on how you tolerate the glaring discontinuities between stage and pit. Christian Thielemann’s conducting is spacious and atmospheric, if less darkly dynamic than, say, Otto Klemperer, and his cast is decent enough. Franz-Josef Selig is a hollow-voiced Daland, Tomislav Muzˇek an ordinary Erik, and Benjamin Bruns a rather weedy Steersman. Samuel Youn, late substitute for Yevgeny Nikitin (of dubious tattoo fame), is a solid Dutchman but his German doesn’t sound natural and mere glowering hardly suggests demonic angst. Ricarda Merbeth sings with real intensity and if her Senta isn’t as heartbreaking as Gwyneth Jones’s it’s largely the production’s fault.

Jan Philipp Gloger follows current Bayreuth fashion, presenting the drama as ironic commentary on itself. This frees him to discard all the old nonsense about ships, the sea, yearning and redemption, which inescapably pervades the score, and substitute The Matrix, only less entertainingly. So the Dutchman becomes a cyborg wandering the capitalist information highway, represented by constantly flashing circuitry. Of course cramming an 1843 opera into such conceptual corsets leaves embarrassing bulges, which Gloger deftly sidesteps by camping the whole thing up. To the terrific music heralding the phantom ship, the Dutchman simply strolls onstage to be greeted by his butler with the post. Then he slashes his wrist. Daland and the Steersman inhabit a tiny rowing boat, the spinning girls are packing electric fans, the Dutchman’s picture is a grotesque abstract sculpture which becomes tacky black wings for Senta, as the Dutchman’s ‘angel’. The ‘redeemed’ couple reappear as kitsch souvenir dolls.


All this apparently represents love versus commerce – arguably one of Wagner’s themes, but minor compared to all the others Gloger ignores. It’s often conceded that such productions ‘nevertheless’ provide new insights. None here, though. Michael Scott Rohan