My Year of Opera 21: Der Fliegende Hollander

Yes, I know that after the whole Rigoletto thing I swore I was going to watch a comedy. But then Wagner’s 200th birthday happened and I thought it best to honor the man. I decided against Meistersinger because, while it may be possible that Wagner has a sense of humor, I’m not quite ready to spend 5.5 hours trying to find out. Instead, since I tend to blackout during late Romantic works, I picked an early opera of his.

I watched the Danish National Opera production that is available through the Naxos Video Library (a service I’m going to be using more for this little escapade despite many buffering issues). The staging was very austere; the whole thing was done on a white stage with glass doors separating the front from the back. The first act takes place on a cruise ship, the second in a spa, the third back on the boat. All the color and hints at the setting was communicated by the costumes. I think it worked well as a visual choice but the staging became “I am standing here now” which didn’t really engage me.

This is one of those operas which, like Turandot, I think I only know the plot to the first half but it turns out I really know the whole story. It was very simple and straightforward (for Wagner, I have seen 3/4 of the Ring so this was very “Dick and Jane” in comparison). I was also impressed at the amount of counterpoint Wagner delivered. I don’t think of him as a contrapuntalist; his music only exists in the world of functional harmony. Sure, there are melodies, but nobody ever seems to talk about them at all (outside of Ride of the Valkyries). Motives, yes. Melodies, no. So the contrapuntal stuff that gets used throughout the opera was kind of a surprise.

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