Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Senta stuck at Bastille

Der fliegende Holländer/The Flying Dutchman/Le vaisseau fantôme, Opéra Bastille, September 6th 2010

Peter Schneider ..... Conductor
Willy Decker ..... Stage Director

Matti Salminen ..... Daland
Adrianne Pieczonka ..... Senta
Klaus Florian Vogt ..... Erik
Marie-Ange Todorovitch ..... Mary
Bernard Richter .....  Steuermann
James Morris ..... Holländer

I have a world of admiration for Willy Decker. He helped tremendously to move the theatrically stale world of opera from the beginning of 90's to where it was in the mid-2000's. His peculiar style usually relies on semi-minimalist but sharp (both clever and geometrically sharp) images that makes it easier to the actors to emphasize a core idea Decker has chosen to convey by any given opera. His style is a possible bridge in  reconciling traditionalists with the Regietheater aficionados, although the hard-core "tradi" and "regie" dislike him equally.

Some of his shows that I was given to see were truly brilliant  (Death in Venice - Barcelona, Moses und Aron - Ruhr), some very good (Traviata- Salzburg),  or good (Die tote Stadt - Paris).  The Flying Dutchman that is to be premiered this Thursday at the Paris Opera is in the class with Die tote Stadt. The final dress rehearsal took place last night at Opéra Bastille, with Yours Truly attending.

This production is 10 years old and this is its (3rd or 4th) revival. For me it was the first time to see it and I can imagine that it was much more thrilling at the time of its creation than it is today. The reason is maybe the fact that I saw this opera this year produced by Martin Kusej in Amsterdam (cf. this and this, then watch the trailer too) -- Kusej's show was so much richer, deeper, and carried more messages that transcend the story of a young girl troubled by the choice to marry her dream or the man she's promised to.

The sets are simple but efficient: I hope you can see well the scene from the above two photos. The sets remain the same for the entire duration of the show, consisting of two white walls: one with a huge door, and the other with an enormous painting of the sea. It is supposed to reflect the intense imagination of a dreamy Senta, who is stuck between the real world of social conventions and the world of her own desires. She is dreaming of the Dutchman whose picture she carries until the end -- the end, when she stabs herself to death, and some other girl --dressed exactly like Senta-- takes that same picture and stands in front of the wall with huge painting, just like Senta did at the beginning of the opera.

The world of her imagination is behind the door, which will open and the Dutchman will enter the world of Senta from there. Her father will be her support, but eventually Erik will stand on the way and The Dutchman will leave. The doors closing after The Dutchman's departure is the end of her hopes of a 'romantic prince'. 

So it all looks nice and interesting, but in reality the show is slow. It's progressing too slowly and the monotony sets in after 30 minutes or so. As in all Willy Decker's productions the light effects are explored impeccably. When the doors open the blue/sea light enter the white room. Towards the end when the ghostly creatures appear, they appear on the painting that is all red-illuminated, while the stage is immersed in the blue light.

Yet for the most part of the show, and despite the whiteness of the stage, the lights are dim, the protagonists move and do something on the stage, but there is no really acting, no actors' theater... It rather looks like one of the Vienna Staatsoper productions, conceived to require 2 rehearsals before the actual performance.

Peter Schneider, Patrick Aubert, Adrianne Pieczonka, James Morris

Since this pre-premiere was nevertheless a rehearsal I will not talk about the orchestral performance, nor about the chorus. I would only like to stress marvelous singing by Klaus Florian Vogt and Adrianne Pieczonka. The ease and a sheer beauty of the voice of KFV is what I admired for several years already, but I've never listened to him singing in a huge hall such as the one at Bastille. His  peculiar timbre remains intact in spite of turning up the volume to effortlessly fill Opéra Bastille. Bravo! Pieczonka is not throwing her all to mark the show by Senta's ballad [Johohoe! Traft Ihr Das Schiff], which is what you usually get from Senta. Instead, she opts for letting her voice grow progressively and in the last third of the show sings beautifully and powerfully all the high notes.  Her timbre is as beautiful as ever.

Marie-Ange Todorovitch and Klaus Florian Vogt

More on the show after the premiere...


  1. What is james Morris like though? I was uncertain as to whether to book this or not as he has sounded so rough on recent MET broadcasts. In the end the chance to hear KFV and Salminen once more made me book.

    Nice weeknd in Paris with this and Il Trittico.

  2. Hi John! I better tell you that on Friday. Maybe he was saving his voice for the premiere (Thursday). We'll see. Cheers ;)

  3. The show is in fact older than 10 years : Hugues Gall bought it in emergency for the Paris Opera in 2000, it wasn't made specially for Bastille. I don't know where (Cologne???) and when it was made, and I don't know why Gall bought an old production instead of doing the new production by Matthias Langhoff he planned.

  4. Thanks for that info. That partly explains why Joël opted for its revival.