Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer [DVD]

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

WORKS: Der fliegende Holländer
PERFORMER: Bryn Terfel, Matti Salminen, Anja Kampe, Marco Jentzsch, Liliana Nikiteanu, Fabio Trümpy; Zurich Opera Choir; Zurich Philharmonia/Alain Altinoglu; dir. Andreas Homoki (Zurich, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: 073 5173


What is a huge map of Africa doing as a central prop in a production of The Flying Dutchman, moreover a map which bursts into flames, which then spread to Europe, while almost naked Africans invade the stage and shoot the Dutchman’s crew with arrows? You might be past asking that question by the time you get to the end of Andreas Homoki’s Zurich production of Wagner’s first great opera, but in case you aren’t, the answer is that all those treasures that the Dutchman shows the venal Daland have been accumulated while he roamed the sea, and plundered the wealth of colonies – hence the burning of Africa as a symbol of the havoc wreaked by colonialism. Has that got anything to do with the opera Wagner wrote? Of course not, but that is just a spur to German directors to do something different.

It does mean that the central issue of Dutchman, as Wagner conceived it, goes by the board: Wagner was concerned with the Dutchman’s seeking redemption from his curse by having a woman sacrifice herself for him, but since that sounds sexist and old-fashioned, Homoki has the Dutchman simply disappear at the end, while Senta, his redemptrix, wrests the huntsman Erik’s rifle from him and shoots herself in the mouth.

My advice would be to buy this recording, watch it once to satisfy your curiosity, then only listen to it, for it is an excellent musical performance, with Bryn Terfel at his finest, and Anja Kampe as an inspired Senta. The veteran Matti Salminen still sings sumptuously as Daland, indeed every member of the cast, and the fine chorus, are impressive. So is Alain Altinoglu’s conducting. Indeed, this would be my recommended version of the Dutchman if it were on CD. It’s just a pity about the misguided conceit of contemporary directors.


Michael Tanner