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Bayreuth One - Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman)

Monday, 10 September 2012 , ora 11.00
You already know that every summer, in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth, everyone gathers together to listen to Richard Wagner's operas in reference performances, in exceptional stage conditions and in the perfect and unique acoustic of the famous Festspielhaus. The festival is at its 101 edition and, in time, had gained notoriety and exposure as a first rank international event. Radio Romania Music has already presented five live transmissions in which its listeners had the opportunity to appreciate the extraordinary qualities of the musical performances. To get to perform on the stage of the Festspielhaus is, for every musician, the highest accomplishment and the supreme honour. Every year, those who run the Festival - today the great-great-granddaughters of Richard Wagner and great-great-great-granddaughters of Franz Liszt, the director Katharina Wagner and manager Eva Wagner Pasquier - offer the audience a new montage of a Wagnerian piece. The premiere of the 2012 summer was 'Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman)' - conductor Christian Thielemann, director the Dutch Jan Philipp Gloger with the South Koreean bass-baritone Samuel Youn as the Dutchman.

In his autobiography 'Mein Leben (My Life)' (1870), Richard Wagner talks extensively about the stormy sea crossing he made from Riga to London, in the year 1839 and which inspired him when he composed the overture for the opera 'Der Fliegende Holländer'. The score, catalogued as a romantic opera has as theme redemption, salvation by means of the supreme sacrifice out of pure love and, talking about the libretto he wrote himself, the composer states that here is where my career as a poet begins. The premiere took place in Dresden in 1843 and, after only four performances the opera was removed from the playbill. The new Wagnerian style, the dense orchestration, the dramatically intense sound built on the main theme songs of the score, the fact that, upon the composer's request, the piece is played without intermission - and it's two and a half hours of gruelling music which demands the full attention of the listener and which does not leave any moment of relaxation! - could be considered the main reasons it failed.

The Bayreuth Festival, 2012 edition, respected Wagner's wish of performing the opera Der Fliegende Holländer in its entirety, without intermission. I must confess, the experience was quite trying for the audience who was practically locked - yes, the entry doors are locked before the beginning of every act and they stay that way until intermission! - in a hall where the air becomes quickly unbreathable and where the chairs - the supreme sacrifice in the name of acoustics! - are made of wood and are without arm rests.

The conductor of this enactment of Holländer was Christian Thielemann. His skills are above any suspicion and what is particular about him and which also defines him, in comparison with the other conductors which tackle Wagnerian repertoire, is his attention to detail, the balance of the sonority in general and that of the instruments with the voices in particular and, also, that unwritten addition of the composer to the score. Regarding the Holländer opera, one with a big orchestra and with an extremely trying blowers section, Thielemann considers that a conductor's duty is not to reduce the orchestra but also not to build it up and regarding the tempos, the ritartandos, the rubatos... many are found in the text but not in the score. Wager was sure that his musical contemporaries know something about their practices in opera orchestras. Considering the musical text like a Gospel, Thielemann tackles it by scientific analysis but also on his intuition. Wager must be for us like a partner. But there is also the danger to lose ourselves in numerous details. The performer must take a machete and forge forward alone and firm through the myriad of lianas, finding underneath it all, the true beaten path by the composer thinks the conductor.

From a musical point of view, the performance was a success whose honours are equally divided between the conductor, orchestra and choir (choir maestro Eberhard Friedrich) and soloists Samuel Youn - the Holländer, Adrianne Piecyonka - Senta, Franz Josef Selig - Daland, Michael König - Erik, Benjamin Bruns - a sailor. I have tried to give satisfaction to my soul and my ear, because, unfortunately, what I had to offer my sight was not at all interesting, on the contrary. On an international plan, the opera world is in constant motion. And when the musical artistic performance seems to have reached a very high ground and all the forces are used to keep this level constant, the innovation, the renewal imposed by the competition and by trend can manifest themselves in a complex manner, especially on the theatrical side of the opera performance, with a more or less happy conclusion.

The Dutch director, Jan Philipp Gloger, has very little experience directing opera performances. He is thirty-one years old and, known and appreciated as a prose theatre director, he began approaching lyrical theatre only in 2010 when he directed Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) by Mozart at the theatre in Augsburg. Like any theatre director, Gloger tries to renew the type with new and original approaches. He cares less about the music and his duty to highlight it although, the main merit of his direction is that it does not influence the score very much - something that will not happen with the Tannhäuser performance imagined by director Sebastian Baumgarten! In this agitated and dangerous world, the Holländer is shown as a businessman obsessed with the capital he craves for and for which he has given up on any human feelings and attitudes. The moment he steps on stage - entry that should send chills up one's spine - is almost unnoticeable: a minuscule appearance with an undetermined contour, which drags after him a small suitcase which later turns out was full of money. The music conveys something else entirely.

The next two acts of Der Fliegende Holländer as it was presented during this summer in Bayreuth, direction Jan Philipp Gloger, take place in a huge all, filled with cardboard boxes, where fans are being assembled. Senta is one of the workers. The world around her is sick and she vehemently refuses to lead the life of an automaton worker. Senta dreams of a fantastic character, the dark Fliegende Holländer, whom she hopes can save from a terrible curse with her love.

Just as the Holländer, Senta tries by any means to escape a fate which she seemed destined to live and, because of this, symbolically, she attaches to her back two cardboard wings spayed with red paint, symbolizing blood. Together with Senta and thanks to her love, the Holländer gets his feelings back and they both truly believe they will be capable to change the world that has made them suffer. They won't. The Holländer's train of thoughts is so perverted by the dark experiences he has endured that his faith in Senta is easily shaken by every suspicion. But, the director tells us, those few moments of love, trust, truth and elation deserve to be kept alive... they are palpable. And so, on the last notes of the ending, the workers no longer pack fans but statues which immortalize and reproduce in thousands of copies the moment of embrace/death of the two unfortunate lovers.

Cristina Sârbu
Translated by Florina Sãmulescu
MTTLC, Bucharest University