Dmitri Tcherniakov directed Der fliegende Holländer in Bayreuth in 2021 where it was recorded. It’s no surprise given (a)Tcherniakov and (b)Bayreuth that it’s not a straightforward production. I’m not sure I have fully unpacked it and there isn’t anything in the disk package to help (just the usual essay telling the reader what he/she/they already know/s).
It starts with a mime play while the overture plays. It’s titled “Die Sonderbare, immer wiederkehrende Traum des H” (The Dutchman’s weird, recurring dream). In it we see Mary and Daland (presumable younger than in the opera) making out in the presence of a small boy; apparently Mary’s son. Daland pushes Mary away and she is ostentatiously ostracised by the partying town folk. She hangs herself. All this takes place behind a scrim. I think when we get to the end of the piece we may be able to extract more of what is going on than is first apparent.
The first act is pretty straightforward but set in a bar. This is an entirely ship free production. In Act 2 we get the often used device of Mary conducting a choir rehearsal in the town square as cover for the fact that what they are singing about doesn’t actually make much sense without a workroom. Here we first meet the Senta of Asmik Grigorian. It’s an amazing performance; highly kinetic, intense, half stroppy teenager and half unhinged fantasist. What’s not at all clear is whether she’s playing a game or in full earnest about the Dutchman and her mission to redeem him. This remains ambiguous even through the betrothal scene. What is very clear is Mary’s disgust at the Dutchman myth and, when he appears, the man himself.
In Act 3 we see almost a mirror of the party scene in the Prologue except this time the Dutchman and his zombie crew are present but silent and distanced. There’s clearly trouble in the air which ends up in fights between Daland’s men and the Dutchman’s crew and the Dutchman shooting a few people. By the time we get to the Dutchman, Erik, Senta confrontation the town is in flames. It’s now clear that Senta is in earnest but, of course, the Dutchman still rejects her. As he prepares to leave a very haggard Mary appears with a shotgun and shoots him. Final curtain.
So back to the Prologue. Why does Daland reject Mary? How come she’s still alive? Why does she hate the Dutchman? Here are some tentative hypotheses. It’s a dream so it doesn’t have to be fully consistent. Mary is one of the Dutchman’s failed attempts at redemption? Senta is her daughter with Daland. She hates the Dutchman for what she knows he will do to Senta? But in some strange way she still has the power to deliver redemption through death? I just don’t know but it’s intriguing. Or, alternatively it’s Tcherniakov reducing everything to desperate people living lives of quiet despair and endlessly playing out scenarios of disillusionment. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s done that.
So if the production is intriguing rather than fully satisfying what about the performances? Happily, they are very good indeed. Asmik Grigorian does tend to dominate proceedings. Her singing is as effective as her acting, which is mesmeric. John Lundgren is the Dutchman and he makes a compellingly unattractive figure; aloof and dangerous. Great singing again too. There’s an excellently characterised Daland from the ever reliable Georg Zeppenfeld. Mary plays a bigger role here than in some productions and Marina Prudenskaya has what it takes dramatically and vocally. There’s a slightly over the top (though not excessively so) Erik from Eric Cutler and a satisfying Steuermann from Attilio Glaser.
Ukrainian Oksana Lyniv conducts (and in doing so becomes the first woman to conduct at Bayreuth). It’s a bit special. There’s a lightness and rhythmic bounce especially early on, that reminds us that we are not so far away from bel canto. She’s backed up by excellent playing from the festival orchestra and a fine chorus. Musically this is very good.
Andy Sommer directed the video and it’s well done; no gimmicks and a fair presentation of the stage action. Video and audio (stereo and DTS-HD-MA) quality on Blu-ray is excellent. There are no extras on the disk and the booklet has a synopsis and track listing plus the previously mentioned generic essay but could use “director’s notes”. Subtitle options are German, English,French, Spanish and Korean. Worth noting that the disk package contains both Blu-ray and DVD disks which is really rather a good idea.
I enjoyed this disk despite being a bit puzzled by it. There are some ideas lurking in there that I haven’t fully processed but which I’m going to be thinking about for a while.
Catalogue number: Deutsche Grammophon 50736174