Seattle Opera’s production of “The Flying Dutchman,” directed by Christopher Alden and starring Greer Grimsley, is a moody but fast-paced charge through Richard Wagner’s first enduring hit.
This may well be the fastest Wagner opera you’ve ever heard.
And that’s not just because “The Flying Dutchman” clocks in at under two and a half hours (without intermission). It’s because the impassioned singers, the clever staging and the imaginative sets are so consistently engaging that Seattle Opera’s performance just speeds by.
From the opening storm-at-sea scene, as the chorus/crew toss and roll themselves from side to side of the tilted set while the orchestra creates the pounding waves and winds, the audience is caught up in the drama and the surging music. Director Christopher Alden makes full use of the ingenious Allen Moyer set, with elements that quickly switch locales from shipboard to shore without any major breaks in the action. Anne Militello’s inventive lighting designs underscore and clarify the story line with jaw-dropping effects.
Seattle Opera: ‘The Flying Dutchman’
Staging by Christopher Alden, conducted by Sebastian Lang-Lessing, through May 21 at McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., Seattle; $25-$297, (206-389-7676 or seattleopera.org).
Wagner created strong, mythical characters for “Dutchman” and gave them plenty of vocal challenges. In Saturday’s opening-night cast, the great strength and experience of the principal singers brought an unmistakable authority to their performances.
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The Dutchman, bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, is a familiar figure here (most impressively as Wotan in Seattle Opera’s “Ring”); he probes every nuance of the title role as a captain doomed to sail the seas in a ghost ship until he is redeemed by true love. With Grimsley’s commanding stage presence and resonant voice, this is a role that suits him admirably, and one he has frequently sung. The experience shows.
His Senta, Australian soprano Rebecca Nash, is making her Seattle debut — and what an interesting debut it is. Nash is a passionate singing actor with a voice of considerable heft and power. Early in the show, the vibrato sounded a bit heavy, and there was a hint of strain, but later these factors vanished in an all-out effort that included fearless, thrilling high notes.
Nikolai Schukoff, as her unsuccessful and hapless suitor Erik, is an ardent singer who becomes a tragicomic figure in this staging, with exaggerated attitudes of suffering that draw some audience laughter. (Alden has him attempting suicide in several positions with a rifle whose barrel is too long for the task.) You’d think that chuckles might be inappropriate in this ultraserious opera, but they humanize the characters and give more poignant depth to the denouement.
As Senta’s father, the sea captain Daland, Daniel Sumegi creates a memorable portrayal with his mighty voice and his deft acting. Colin Ainsworth is a lyrical Steersman and a highly effective actor; Luretta Bybee does fine work in the shorter role of Mary.
The chorus is simply terrific, whether the task involves grappling with the high seas, roistering in celebration afterward, or engaging in some cleverly stylized spinning. There’s no room for error in these fast-moving scenes, and the chorus manages all the synchronized action while singing remarkably well (a tip of the hat to chorusmaster John Keene).
Conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing, who made his Seattle debut with the company’s 2014 International Wagner Competition, coaxed vivid and exciting performances from an orchestra that knows this composer inside and out.
Sunday’s alternate cast created a remarkably different show. In the title role, Alfred Walker was a strong actor with a warm tone that didn’t quite have the heroic presence that Wagner requires. Wendy Bryn Harmer was a standout Senta with a big, radiant voice; David Danholt (one of the winners of Seattle Opera’s 2014 International Wagner Competition) sang with artful clarity as the ill-fated Erik.
Sunday, however, brought fewer light moments; the atmosphere in the audience seemed less engaged; and, oddly, the counterpoint of numerous audience cellphones tinkling their merry melodies during the show was considerably more extensive. Perhaps it was a barrage of Mother’s Day greetings — but no matter what the day, for an opera audience, silence is golden.