Monday, 9 January 2017

Der fliegende Holländer Madrid Kwangchul Youn

Wagner Der fliegende Holländer from the Teatro Real in Madrid, with Kwangchul Youn as Daland, Samuel Youn as the Dutchman, Ingela Brimberg, Nikolai Schukoff, Kai Rüütel and Benjamin Bruns,  conducted by Pablo Heras-Casado, recorded live 23/12 and now on Culturebox, To read about the visionary Kasper Holten Flying Dutchman at the Finnish National Opera, please click HERE

The presence of Kwangchul Youn and Samuel Youn (not related) made this performance particularly moving. Kwangchul Youn is an Elder Statesman, a Wagnerian of commanding presence and great depth,  while the younger Samuel Youn represents the next generation.  In the context of this opera, this role reversal brought added piquancy to the inter-relationship between The Dutchman and Daland,  The Dutchman has roamed the seas for hundreds of years, and in the process has learned things no mortal should eperience. Daland, with his fixation on worldly goods, cannot comprehend the metaphysical.  What will happen to Daland after he loses his daughter, his greatest treasure?  Will he learn from the Dutchman that there are things in this world and beyond that matter more than status and success.  One measure of really good performances is their ability to generate deeper insight into the meaning of the opera.  Youn and Youn did this themselves by the dynamics between them without changing a word and without help from the staging.  That's true artistry, and it lifts this performance well above routine. 

It's a fallacy that performances need to be ranked: the vast majority are neither very very bad nor very very good  Only pseuds "need" to rank things. It's much more important to identify the good and less good within a performance.  This one was an interesting mix. Kwanchul Youn carried the show; Samuel Youn complementing him well,  There were some very good cameos indeed, especially Kai Rüütel as Mary, so distinctive that her voice alone commanded presence, though she was costumed in unflattering drabness.  She made me understand why Wagner, who didn't waste time on triviality,   made the part significant.  Mary is a leader, not a conformist, and protects Senta though Senta lets down the other women because she doesn't work  As I listened to Rüütel 's firmly assertive yet womanly singing, I thought of Mary and Martha in the gospel of St Luke.  Martha works hard, while Mary dreams.  But Mary focuses on spiritual ideals. When Senta (Ingela Brimberg) clings to the portrait  of the Dutchman, she hopes to save him from his fate, A rather bigger responsibility than spinning. In this production, Rüütel is seen polishing a light casing, then opening it uo to reveal a light bulb.  Such a telling detail!

This production, by Alex Ollé and La Fura dels Baus premiered in 2014 in Lyon, and bears the hallmark of the Fura dels Baus style. Massive structures, dwarfing the characters but providing dramatic visual impact, which in an opera like  Der fliegende Holländer is fundamental, for the Dutchman's ship is much more than a ship. It looms over the villagers like a malign presence. Like the storm it's a creation from hell, not a normal part of Nature.  Daland and his men are seen walking down an extremely steep ladder whose steps are so far apart they probably won't meet industrial safety standard.s The singers seemed to descend with uncertainity, and for good reason: they are in a dangerous situation. A compartment high above the stage is lit to reveal the Dutchman's crew, high above the mortal plane. 

In another typical Fura dels Baus touch, the designs by Urs Schönebaum and  Alfons Flores are monumental but simple, detail added by changes of light and video projections. These are ideally suited to an opera like this where scenes like the storm and the ghost ship are hard to stage by conventional means.  These waves, and the flashes of lightning, were so vivid that they were discomforting. Exactly as they should be, in dramatic terms. Some scenes were less successful, such as the depiction of the women in vaguely Indian or Middle Eastern garb. There's no reason why the action needs to take place in Norway, or Scotland, or wherever, but there's not a whole lot of point transposing it somewhere largely irrelevant except, perhaps, to bring in the idea of the women working on the beach, close to the sea like their menfolk.   The party scene worked rather better, since the singers and chorus "danced" with formalized gestures, the men  enacting movements like launching sails, and the women more fluttery gestures, like spinning.  In contrast, the ghostly sailors don't do anything: they just stand still, apart from one another, lit in mysterious blue.  Like Senta, separate from her peers, thinking, instead of working.

The final scene was particularly effective : demonic shifts of light and texture, obscuring normal boundaries of form,  the undulating sand dunes disintegrating in images of the sea, reflecting the turbulence in the music. Senta puts her hand into the sand, then covers her face in white, powdery paste so that she ends up looking like the Dutchman.  A wonderfully ambiguous ending: Senta's body seems to dissolve in the sea, if it is the sea, or something more demonic. Is the Dutchman redeemed, or is Senta's sacrifice in  vain?  Pablo Heras-Casado conducted enthusiastically. If the brass sounded a bit strange, and the percussion hollow, that worked well in connection with meaning.

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