For the sixth year, the Bayreuth Festival presents Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) directed by Jan Philipp Gloger, with John Lundgren alternating with Greer Grimsley, Ricarda Merbeth, Peter Rose, Tomislav Mužek, Christa Mayer and Rainer Trost, under the baton of Axel Kober
No ship nor sea for the Dutchman in the The Flying Dutchman seen by Jan Philipp Gloger, but a suit, a suitcase full of banknotes and a cyberpunk hairstyle.
Inspired by the anarchist and socialist sympathies of Wagner (who participated in the failed revolution of 1848/49), Gloger makes an anti-capitalist transposition of the opera and sentences the protagonist to wander in an ocean of financial transactions, symbolized by vertiginously increasing counters set up on intertwined computer circuits, franticly flashing.
Exhausted by a materialistic and alienating life, submitted to the imperative of growth and profit, the Dutchman hopes to be saved by an unconditional love, an alien feeling for him, who only knows of interest relationships.
His salvation comes to him at the encounter with Daland, here a dealer of fans who, once observed his wealth, offers him to marry his daughter. The transaction is sealed by a contract prepared on the spot by the Pilot, a young arrivist who shares with his boss the love for money and everything it allows to buy, objects as well as people.
A nice scenery change performed by the sailors’ choir, here the sales representatives of Daland’s company, leads us to the fan factory, which replaces the spinning mill.
While the women sing the Spinning Chorus to the rhythm of the blade twists and the line packing, Senta appears. In her hands, instead of a portrait depicting the Dutchman, she holds a wooden sculpture axe-cut and black stained, evoking a primitive and brutal dimension, but also a return to the roots, to nature, totally missing in this artificial universe.
She thus tells the legend of the man who dared to challenge the Gods, in a virulent and aggressive Ballad, which frightens her colleagues.
Then the doomed explorer arrives and there is love at first sight. While the two are declaring their feelings, a video is displayed behind them, showing black drops flowing towards the ground (which seem a nod to the ”black gold” of Castorf’s Ring), later turning into vertical stripes, then tree trunks, aligned as if in a forest. Armed with cardboard wings and wooden sticks, the two protagonists seem ready to rise up against this dehumanised society and to take off towards a new world.
Jan Philipp Gloger’s direction is an interesting statement that works quite well at first, but by neglecting the psychological aspects of the characters and all the supernatural aspects, it is too far away from the libretto and the composer’s intentions.
Although torn apart by the curse, the Dutchman is still an immortal who, at the head of a crew of undead, has sailed every sea. He is an imposant and terrifying character, who here becomes a miserable human complaining about his fate. This is why John Lundgren‘s Dutchman (who was greatly appreciated as Wotan last year in Bayreuth and in Amsterdam in Eine florentinische Tragödie, also directed by Gloger), despite his impeccable technique and great commitment, is unable to involve the audience.
Senta is a young girl who knows nothing of the world and who, unable to find her place in society, became obsessed with a legend and is willing to die for a man she never met, but in this production she looks more like a strong Brunnhilde defying her father and the entire society.
Ricarda Merbeth (who was a gorgeous Isolde in Bayreuth in 2017, replacing Petra Lang on the fly), whose clear and powerful highs are much appreciated, embodies an adult and confident Senta, almost more imposing than the Dutchman himself.
The sailors’ choir and the ghosts’ choir, here mere commercial rivals, lose all theatricality, the first no longer sounds like a disturbing invocation and the second becomes more caricatural than terrifying.
Strangely enough, the most endearing characters are the ones we would find most despicable, the arrivist young man, the father who “sells” his daughter and the pitiful suitor.
With a wide and charming timbre, Rainer Trost (the Pilot) plays a convincing young wolf of Wall Street, who hugs a suitcase full of banknotes with the tenderness and enthusiasm of a lover. Peter Rose‘s charismatic and lively Daland captivates us with the clarity of his voice projection and its warmth, while Tomislav Mužek’s extremely compelling Erik impresses with its touching timbre and soft phrasing. The sincere expression of his feelings for Senta is one of the few moving moments of the evening, thanks also to a very committed orchestra.
Special mention for Christa Mayer‘s Mary, with her clear and consistent tessitura.
Axel Kober leads the Bayreuth Festival orchestra in a limpid and precise manner. Each instrument can be clearly heard without losing sight of the whole, and if one closes his eyes he is finally carried away by Wagner’s splendid music.
In Daland’s factory, a new product replaces the fans: a small statue depicting the embrace of the unfortunate lovers. This object, disrespectfully exploiting the tragic destiny of Senta and the cursed captain, drives up sales, under the joyful eyes of the girl’s father.