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O Captain! My Captain!

Santa Fe
The Crosby Theater
07/01/2023 -  & July 7, 12, 31, August 5, 10, 15, 25, 2023
Richard Wagner: Der fliegende Holländer
Nicholas Brownlee (Dutchman), Elza van den Heever (Senta), Chad Shelton (Erik), Morris Robinson (Daland), Bille Bruley (Steersman), Gretchen Krupp (Mary)
The Santa Fe Opera Chorus, Susanne Sheston (Chorus Master), The Santa Fe Opera Orchestra, Thomas Guggeis*/Alden Gatt (Conductor)
David Alden (Director), Paul Steinberg (Scenic Designer), Constance Hoffman (Costume Designer), Duane Schuler (Lighting Designer), Maxine Braham (Choreographer)

E. van den Heever & SFO Chorus (© Curtis Brown for SFO)

The Santa Fe Opera (SFO) launched its 2023 season with a riveting Tosca last Friday, and last night The Flying Dutchman opened with yet again standing ovations.

The very first bar of the overture sets the tone of a powerful reading by German conductor Thomas Guggeis. At thirty, Guggeis is making his debut with the SFO after conducting the same work at the Met last month and Elektra in 2022. The Maestro, as if he were the Dutchman himself, familiar with the misnamed Cape of Good Hope, conjures up the might and ferocity of the sea as we are sprayed with salt and crested waves and shattered to pieces by gale-force winds. We have a few seconds to breathe with a transparent delineation of the short‑lived redemption theme, and the cyclone rages again until it finally abates. Stunning. All throughout the opera, the conducting will be purposeful, and the sound of the orchestra will glow with biting intensity and clarity, particularly on the sharp chromatic figures of the strings, well-defined horn calls, and powerful winds (no pun intended). The SFO chorus is massive, with perfect unison and first-rate musicality. Under Chorus Master Susanne Sheston, those singers never disappoint.

Nicholas Brownlee is a strong, ringing Dutchman, finely detailed and lyrical. The voice is powerful, and Wagner does not seem to cause any problem to this bass‑baritone. His sense of German phrasing is flawless. At curtain calls, he receives a huge ovation. Soprano Elza van den Heever is a sweet and firm Senta. Intense in her ballad, she has a commanding presence with a most persuasive sense of line while preserving the inner light of the character. The voice easily carries over a thunderous orchestra. She, too, will be greeted with a standing ovation. Morris Robinson as Daland is dark in tone and secure. His character is portrayed appropriately. Tenor Chad Shelton is an illuminating and virile Erik. Shelton seems perfectly at ease with this role, but perhaps he should have sung with more inclination to the bel canto coquetries. Gretchen Krupp is a solid Mary, and Bille Bruley a suitable Steersman.

Staging by David Alden is unorthodox but compelling. Moving the action in the 1940s allows the director to introduce novel perspectives, some of which are daring. The “Summ und brumm” chorus in Act II takes place in the belly of a vessel, where there is no spinning wheel. The only wheels turning are those of the engine room, and household duties have taken the place of the spinning. All this is depicted in a quite creative and meticulous choreography by Maxine Braham. The last scene takes liberties with the original libretto and may have confused any unprepared spectator, or first-timers. The Dutchman’s ship is represented as a pile of gigantic dark cubes that rises from under the stage and sinks back as the opera ends and Senta dies, entangled in the moorings. A very dramatic and arresting idea.

Christian Dalzon



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