Review: Experienced voices make Wagner opera soar at Glimmerglass

Review: Glimmerglass Opera’s dynamic production of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” which opened Satu

Glimmerglass Opera’s dynamic production of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” which opened Saturday night, was a study in how having a lot of experienced people on hand can make most things possible.

’The Flying Dutchman’

WHERE: Glimmerglass Festival, Alice Busch Opera Theater, Route 80, Cooperstown

WHEN: Through Aug. 24. Performances on July 12, 14, 18, 27, 30, and Aug. 4, 10, 12, 16, 20 and 24

HOW MUCH: $132 to $26

MORE INFO: (607) 547-2255 or

The singing was superior at all levels, which in Wagner is no small accomplishment since he didn’t write particularly accessible vocal lines. It is in the orchestra where the beauty of his melodies can be heard, not from the singers. A Wagner voice is a big, dramatic voice that can carry over a brass-heavy orchestra. Most of the leads had sung Wagner at such houses as the Metropolitan Opera or Houston Opera, so they knew what to do. The German diction was especially clear, as were the English supertitles.

Topping the list was soprano Melody Moore as Senta, the girl who is determined to die to free the Dutchman from his curse to roam the seas eternally. Her luminous, fluid tones thrilled with passion. Her zealous commitment to task fueled her character. As the Dutchman, bass Ryan McKinny intensely conveyed despair, pathos, rage and disbelief with beautifully shaped phrases and surprising levels of dynamic choices. He was at clenched-fist, full volume one minute and a coaxing, tender whisper the next.

Bass Peter Volpe as Senta’s father Daland used his golden-burnished tones to lighten up the dark intensity of the score, and tenor Jay Hunter Morris as Senta’s spurned lover Erik sang phrases of great rhythmic clarity and tonal intensity. His physical movements were very natural and projected a greater realism. The large male chorus as the sailors did a hornpipe kind of dance and sang with much gusto even as they had to run up and down the set’s scaffolding or play with the set’s many ropes. The large female chorus, which had only a few brief scenes, was also adept. Doubling the ship’s ropes as spinning “threads” was a clever move.

They all worked within James Noone’s very nautical set, which included a raked stage, many ropes, some vertical scaffolding and a raised platform in back that supposedly connected to the Dutchman’s ship. A bed and a few chairs indicated Senta’s room. Dramatic visuals were provided through Mark McCullough’s shockingly vibrant lighting with brilliant scarlet being the favorite. Transparent scrims and curtains and the opening’s billowing dark curtains separated the action. Doom was created, illustrated by Wagner’s instrumental stormy seas.

Overseeing the package was director Francesca Zambello, a longtime stager of Wagner’s operas. This was the first one for Glimmerglass. She did well with the often interesting and angular blocking of the large cast in the small space. Other than having McKinny and Morris spice their duet with a little steaminess, the interaction among the singers was sometimes static — even as the singing had vitality. Flow was also a bit stiff initially, but that might be laid to first night roughness, or because Wagner’s libretto doesn’t connect easily.

The orchestra under Met regular John Keenan also settled in after playing one of the most famous overtures in the repertoire. The near-capacity crowd enthusiastically supported every effort.

Other performances of “The Flying Dutchman” are July 12, 14, 18, 27, 30, Aug. 4, 10, 12, 16, 20 and 24.

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