Metro Weekly

Seaworthy: The Flying Dutchman returns to DC

The Washington National Opera revives a much-improved Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman Photo by Scott Suchman
The Flying Dutchman
Photo by Scott Suchman

Those of us a little longer in the tooth will recognize the return of Flying Dutchman (FOUR STARS) — a production last seen here in 2008. Sharply lit and scored with the harsh lines of a primitive woodcut, the set was memorable for the enormous birdwing which dipped occasionally into view like the well-meaning contributions of a gigantic toddler.

This time around, however, with more cohesion from director Stephen Lawless and more dramatic chemistry and tension, there is none of the remoteness that turned props (and ghostly apparitions) into amusements. Here, the potency of the narrative allows one the framework in which to find the forlorn beauty and emotion embedded in Wagner’s searching score -– an appreciation of the opera’s more rarified themes remaining optional.

And the plot itself is accessible. The story begins with sea captain Daland anchored near port, waiting out bad weather. A ship comes alongside and, after a brief but intense acquaintanceship with its mysterious Dutch captain, the greedy Daland promises his daughter Senta in exchange for the man’s treasure. Meanwhile, back at home, Senta pines for a mysterious seafarer of folkloric legend, while her boyfriend Erik watches in frustration. When the ships finally arrive in port, myth and reality collide.

At the heart of this version’s more effective storytelling is Eric Owens, who gives his Dutchman a strange and striking presence. A bear of a man, Owens traps his immense strength in the smallest of movements, lending them a portentous kind of delicacy. It suggests the potential for violence but also speaks to the unbearable moral and spiritual burden roiling within him. Befitting this Dutchman, Owens sings with a deeply gratifying precision, his sound lustrously hewn.

It wasn’t easy to feel the passion of Senta in 2008, but here soprano Christiane Libor makes for a very convincing young woman, believable in her increasing willingness to loosen earthly ties for idealized love. Libor captures the sad eeriness of this tale –- and of this woman — bringing an otherworldly magic to her song for the mythical seaman with an exquisitely beautiful tone.

Though he seems rather young to be her father, Ain Anger is a charismatic captain and sings with befitting energy. As Erik, Jay Hunter Morris brings a credible angst. He uses his tenor with a great, bowing roundness and at times it distracts, at others it is quite beautiful. As The Steersman, Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Michael Brandenburg is nicely showcased for his natural acting and clear, attractive tenor.

And so, seven years later the Dutchman returns. This time his vessel is far more sea-worthy.

To March 21. Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets are $25 to $300. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.

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