John WegnerLeft - John Wegner as The Flying Dutchman

Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman
is a tempestuous tale based on the legend of a Dutchman who is condemned to sail the stormy seas until he finds a faithful woman who will love him until death. In Wagner’s operatic masterpiece, the Dutchman is allowed to return to land every seven years to search for this elusive woman – finally, he finds Senta, a woman prepared to die for love.

Wagner’s primary source for this opera derived not only from two prose works by Heinrich Heine, but from his own experience of many months spent on an old boat in stormy seas, reflected in the stormy visions evoked in much of the music for this opera. The intensely emotional and evocative quality of this work and its story illustrates Wagner’s revolutionary approach to opera, based on his theories of Oper und Drama and Zukunftsmusik (music of the future) – the joining together of music and drama into an inseparable whole. The Flying Dutchman is typical of Wagner – a richly expressive and dramatic work on a grand-scale.

Presented in concert by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, along with the men from the Victorian Opera Chorus, and a fine selection of Australian and international soloists – a vivid rendering of the sheer scale of Wagner’s score was created. The ensemble numbers, in particular the finale, created an amazing wall of sound and power in tune with Wagner’s style and artistic vision.

Conducted by Oleg Caetani, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra opened the opera with a chilling performance of the overture which quickly established the atmosphere of a wild and windy sea... and story. The orchestral performance was powerful (at times too powerful; overpowering the soloists), yet nuanced – representing the elemental forces of nature, but also of love.

The six soloists presented polished, fine vocal performances which highlighted the lyricism beneath the sheer power of Wagner’s music. Gabriele Maria Ronge, in particular, performed commendably, replacing Lisa Gasteen with very short notice, after a neck injury forced Gasteen to withdraw from the performances. However, the casting was at times a little jarring and disconcerting, as a mature Ronge portrayed the maiden Senta, against the much younger Sian Pendry portraying Mary, Senta’s nurse.

The highlight of the performance was the renowned bass-baritone, John Wegner - the Dutchman. Wegner’s performance encapsulated Wagner’s ideal of the unification of music and drama, with a commanding vocal interpretation along with an authentic portrayal of the Dutchman’s brooding torment, and final salvation.

A concert adaptation of Wagner’s dramatic masterpiece at first seems a little misplaced (and at times the drama did become lost), however, the one-hundred and twenty member MSO chorus, along with the Victorian Opera men’s chorus brought Wagner’s music and drama to life. In the second half of the night’s performance, the chorus was divided into three ensembles on each side of the stage, creating in the final scene, through sound, a sense of the overwhelming, awe-inspiring force of Wagner’s music, and love, as Senta throws herself into the sea in her devotion for the Dutchman.

The Dutchman and Senta become transfigured – and despite the concert format, it was hard, too, not to be transformed by Wagner’s music, and the people who dedicate themselves to its performance.

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
WAGNER’S The Flying Dutchman

Venue: the Arts Centre, Hamer Hall
Dates/Times: Monday 25, Thursday 28 and Saturday 30 August at 7.30pm
Bookings: or Ticketmaster on 1300 136 166

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