Simon Estes / Lisbeth Balslev / Matti Salminen / Robert Schunk / Anny Schlemm / Graham Clark / Bayreuther Festspiele, 1985 / Woldemar Nelsson, cond. / Harry Kupfer, dir. /
Studio: DGG-Universal Classics
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: PCM stereo, DTS 5.1 /
Length: 135 minutes
Told from the point of view of a demented Senta (Lisbeth Balslev), this production of Wagner’s Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) is a Gothic horror story rather than a tale of redemption. In this interpretation, the entire plot is made to hinge on Senta’s fevered imagination. Once she has caught the fallen portrait of the accursed Dutchman (Simon Estes), she is lost to the real world despite Erik’s unceasing entreaties. In Act 2, Daland (Matti Salminen), her father, introduces her to a shadowy figure in a black fedora, who is meant to be the Dutchman, but we never see this character’s face and he doesn’t sing. Instead, Simon Estes shows up ensconced in a flowery cocoon, so that in effect there are two suitors on the stage, a real one (in the hat) and the imaginary one (Simon Estes). This double vision is disorienting and deviates sharply from Wagner’s true intentions. Ultimately, this production seriously distorts what is meant to be a simple tale of a haunted seaman and the woman who loves him. Rather than redeem the Dutchman, Senta throws herself out a window and the villagers view her crumpled body with complete indifference.
Aside from all this, this production does have some merit. The sets are interesting, with the Dutchman’s ship portrayed as a skeletal hull that opens to reveal two huge hands. Balslev’s Senta is appropriately intense, with good chest support and a full, round voice that whirls like the spinners’ wheels. Her higher notes are a bit problematic but tolerable. Throughout Act 1 Estes presents the Dutchman as a powerful, angry, and tortured soul who frightens Senta, which doesn’t invite compassion for his plight. In Act 2, however, he is capable of tenderness, and his dreamy pleas are quite touching. Salminen is a threatening and imposing Daland, with delightfully clear tones. Schunk is a serviceable Erik, and Clark as the Steuermann is wonderfully musical. The conducting is far more interesting than in the Finnish production (the only other Holländer available on DVD). The sound here is great, but the video is twenty years old and too dark. Novices might consider the other available DVD, by Kultur (Savonlinna Opera Festival, 2005, conducted by Leif Segerstam), which although soporific, features Hildegard Behrens as a wonderful Senta and Salminen as a powerful Daland.