Friday, September 21, 2012

Top Ten Things we love about The Flying Dutchman

September 21 is not only Gustav Holst's birthday but it is also opening night for Opera Roanoke's 37th season and our premiere Wagner production. Holst was one of dozens of composers influenced by Wagner. Though he forged his own style, Wagner's imprint continues to ripple across the universe of classical music. This promises to be an exciting weekend for culture lovers in Roanoke!

Here's a preview of my "opera insights" talk an hour before each of our 2 performances (tonight & Sunday afternoon).

Top Ten Things We Love about The Flying Dutchman

1. Overture: though still a mélange of tunes and themes from across the score mashed up together, Wagner’s 10’ curtain raiser is a tone poem distillation of the entire opera, an early clue to the intertwining of the two main themes & the first of three key appearances of the so-called “redemption” motive (listen for the cadence that sounds like a traditional "Amen...")

2. Dutchman’s opening Monologue (Die Frist ist um…Wie oft in Meeres tiefsten Schlund… Dich frage ich, gepriesner Engel Gottes… Nur eine Hoffnung…)
Shakespearean torrent of experience, passion & longing = King Richard (II or III)

3. Senta’s Ballad: perfect union of form & content – the Ballad is the story of TFD and uses his music – Senta’s mirror image motif unites them… And both of their motiven mirror the open 5th with which Beethoven launches his great 9th Symphony...

[Her rejection of the women's chorus “dumb singing” is Wagner thumbing his nose at traditional opera – an example of bourgeois banality starkly contrasted with the truly artistic and poetic soul…]

4. Erik’s Dream: Auf hohem Felsen leg ich träumend…the Epitome of Romantic poet, dreamer, wanderer and lover of nature & beauty...

[Senta’s comment on “the other one” with her Father in Erik's oneiric vision –
der düstre Blick – his melancholy look… they are all romantics here!]

5. a. The Dutchman’s materializing before Senta’s eyes – a visual and musical poem – one of the highlights of our production & one of its most compelling images…

b. Dutchman’s and Senta’s Duet (and the sensually beautiful impressionist strains that punctuate the silence before they sing a note together – a magical sequence and the embodiment of the idea or state of being we call “spellbound…”

6. The Transition from II to III – Wagner ideally wanted TFD done complete with no breaks between numbers, scenes or acts (and wrote versions accordingly to allow for an unbroken performance – as we will do b/w II & III – or to allow for a break and an intermission – which we will take at the end of Act I). The themes are undergirded & punctuated with a churning rhythmic motif that could be a nervous heart beating or the endless rolling of the sea… The stage picture as the cast enters, crosses and literally transforms the set from the house back to the ship is fantastic…

7. The unexpected entrance of the Ghost Chorus (on tape – thanks to the Jeff Center's Music Lab) interrupting the Norwegian revelry at the top of Act III and literally spooking everyone away!

8. Erik’s Aria: The romantic poet’s impassioned – and ultimately futile – entreaty to Senta. Often perceived as a “weak” character, our Erik is a convincing true-to-life – and per opera’s M.O. – larger than life – character – passionate, faithful & genuine…

9. The Dutchman’s dramatically revealing exit – I get chills just thinking about the moment, punctuated by another eerie entrance from the ghost chorus...

10. Senta’s Liebestod (Love-death) and the opera’s resolution – a masterstroke from the revolutionary composer soon after The Flying Dutchman to be known as “the Master”

(Mahler anecdote: GM running around Vienna distraught upon hearing the news of Wagner's death - a close friend thought Mahler's father must have died from observing the young Wagnerian's behavior...)

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