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"The production on this DVD represents the best that Bayreuth, if not opera itself, can be.
Kupfer and his forces attain Wagner's concept of Gesamtkunstwerk. Everything supports Kupfer's idea that the events are a product of Senta's desperate attempt to escape the crushing dullness of her Ibsenesqe reality. Sykora's sets fly up and down, fold in and out, to move from gray confinement to desperate escape. Balslev's voice, face, and body perfectly convey Senta's psychotic state. Mary seems somewhat shady, Eric maintains a constants state of panic, and Daland ends up helpless. The blocking of the chorus alternately represents the disapproval of Senta's peers (in the second act) and the wild product of her imagination (in the third). The choice of the harder Dresden version of the score, especially at the end, suits the ultimate failure to which both the Dutchman and Senta are doomed.
Even the Bayreuth production style - no audience, no images of the conductor and orchestra, no curtain calls - helps to underscore that this is cold reality in spite of a thrilling theatrical performance.
The musical forces meet the high standard set by the production. Salminen, as usual, pours out floods of his richly sonorous, distinctive bass. Estes sings as strong as he looks, while maintaining a smooth legato. Balslev tackles Senta - a role as hard if not as long as Isolde - successfully. Her bottom and top are equally strong and the sound of her voice, strong yet fragile, fits the part. When you have someone the caliber of Graham Clark singing the Steuermann, you know even the smaller parts have been cast with an eye to quality singing. The principle singers had been in this production for seven seasons (ironically, the same amount of time the Dutchman was cursed to sail the seas) by the time the performance was recorded and their experience shows in their execution.
Nelsson presides over a fast, assured reading of the score. Brian Large deserves special mention for his direction of the video. Senta always being on stage (even when Wagner doesn't have here there) must have presented a particular challenge. Large maintains an adroit balance cutting between Senta and the main action, and otherwise stays out of the way.
The video quality is good for 1985; just don't try to zoom in on a scene. The sound is excellent. There are no extras to speak of; the production speaks for itself.
If you care about Wagner, opera, theater, or art, buy this DVD."
Cat's Meow | Bradenton, FL United States | 06/27/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For those of us who couldn't get to Bayreuth to see this much- discussed production of Der Fliegende Hollander, this DVD pro- vides an excellent close approximation.
Whatever one may have heard about this "controversial" product- ion, put your opinions aside, and "enjoy" a terrifying ride.
From the initial scene of women and girls watching a thunder- storm outside, and worrying at the same time about their sailor folk, THIS seems right in and of itself-the older women sit over a communal teapot, while the girls are watched over by an atten- tive Mary, who also is keeping an eye on the obsessed Senta.
The concept of having Senta dreaming of a way out, a very drastic, however romantic it may be, of her circumscribed life as a village dweller, soon to face a humdrum life as a hausfrau spinning her life away while enduring long waits for her menfolk is a brilliant concept. The sight of not one, but TWO Dutchman figures, one a reality of a bargained marriage, the other of a dream-obsession figure is chilling, sinister, and one just knows this will have a bad outcome, once reality clashes with the inner madness-and it does: Senta dreams of marrying her ideal dream nightmare figure, and the imagined wedding party is subse- quently chased off by unseen nightmares.
Erik the hunter comes off as one of the few characters grounded in reality, and he tries desperately to wake Senta from a disas- trous obsession. But she cannot handle the clash of reality be- tween reality and madness, and faced with the reality of a cir- cumscribed narrow village life, she jumps out of her window. What happens next is shocking: all the villagers turn their backs on the now-dead Senta and grieving Erik, and slam shut their windows-absolutely shocking.
This is the sad reality-when someone could not break free of their desired escape from a dreary life-they retreat into madness.
Going back to Wagner's original orchestration is also a brilliant concept, as one can see how frightening it was to the 1840's audiences. It IS dark and gloomy, no good can come of it, and it is a frightening piece, as it is meant to be. It is not a piece of froth, it reeks of the sea, and it's violence.
This is a must-have disc, as it dispells much of the romantic cliches that have barnacled this opera."
SIMON AT HIS VERY BEST
GEORGE RANNIE | DENVER, COLORADO United States | 06/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I own many recordings of the "Flying Dutchman" including a CD of this staged performance which has, for sometime, been my very favorite recording of the opera. I really believe that this recording captures Simon Estes at his considerable best. His singing is overwhelming. This performance proves that he was a MAJOR talent in the operatic firmament. How unfortunate it was that he did not always maintain this high level of singing in other portrayals. I feel that if he had maintained this standard of singing, he would now be considered one of opera's greatest bass-baritones of all times. Anyway, his singing in this performance captures him at his very best-great intonation, loads of controlled power along with the required introspective soft well-controlled singing-and does he ever have stamina sounding as fresh at the close of the opera as he does at its beginning! Visually, his portrayal of the Dutchman is very sensual indeed-I can see why Senta was so besotted and loony for him (whether he is real or not!). Lizbeth Balsev is a wonderful Senta. She is able to vocally and thrillingly ride the orchestra when required and tone it all down to sing softly when required. She portrays Senta's mania very well. She is visually very believable in the role as well as being able to vocally do anything that Wagner throws at her from the full throttled "blow them off the stage" type of singing (with no hint of strain) to the most delicate well-controlled soft "unworldly" type of singing. Brava! The rest of the cast is also great. Salminen is simply awesome-is that voice really coming from a human throat? Schunk sings the impossible role of Erik wonderfully and powerfully; the best that I've ever heard having no audible problems with its cruel tessitura! (He doesn't crack once as I have heard many other tenors do in this role!) Nelsson whips the Bayreuth orchestra into an effective "oceanic wild froth"; it is really exciting to hear! None of the opera seems to drag as in some of the other recordings that I've heard (e.g., the Levine recording especially). The chorus is marvelous contributing much excitement to the opera (the tenors in the chorus are a standout being unbelievably good from sweet soft head tones to full bodied stirring high notes) The score is given (I believe) complete including that marvelously exciting stretta-section after the trio which is usually cut. (Possibly because the singers have worn themselves out with the preceding duet and trio. Nevertheless, these singers-- almost literally whipped into a frenzy with Balsev popping full throttled high note after high note (while prone and crawling on the floor)--sing it for all its worth bring the scene vocally to a thrilling close; they raise the excitement level to the "fevered-pitch" reading on the "opera excitement measuring machine" making the hairs on the back of my neck stand tall-WOW!) The production is rather modern; however, it is comprehensible even to someone as unsophisticated as I. In spite of a few audible scenery clunks along with footsteps, the sound is great and the picture is crystal clear in this DVD format. I'm really thrilled to have a visual to go along with my favorite recording of this thrilling masterpiece. "
A perfect example of musical psycho analysis
F. Schellen | flagstaff, arizona United States | 08/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The key to this production is director Harry Kupfer who made this concept of DER FLIEGENDE HOLLAENDER his signature. Kupfer got fascinated by the obsession of Senta by a legendary but not very real person. So, the Dutchman became real in her mind and since a legend of a cursed soul can never end happily, it destructs Senta's weird mind. It is amazing to see how, with the perfection of the technical means of the Bayreuth Festival, this production is able to show this Night Mare with an astounding sense of reality. I have had the priviledge to work in Bayreuth during the making and performing of this master piece. It has not lost any of its unique value, in a performance with the greatest singers of that time, Simon Estes, Matti Salminen, Robert Schunk and Lisbeth Balslev. This recording is 21 years old and has lost nothing of its magic power!"
A STRANGE, CREATIVELY STAGED DUTCHMAN
Paco Rivero | Miami, FL | 06/10/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Spectacular sets, an inspired conductor, a ravishing orchestra, a stupendous chorus, and a mostly phenomenal cast add up to what is at times a thrilling 1985 Bayreuth recording of a 1978 staging of Der Fliegende Hollander. It is truly electrifying when the set flies apart and the dark sea comes creeping in between the Overture and Act One. The fickle ocean's spirit ebbs, flows, rolls, climbs, and crashes tumultuously through Wagner's score, occasionally overwhelming the singers, though the playing here is expertly handled by the Bayreuther Festspiele Orchestra with Woldemar Nelsson confidently conducting at the helm at a fast clip.
Lisbeth Balslev's Senta is emotionally involving. Her sweet, innocent voice more than compensates for some minor faults (for instance, her German is accented, and at times her singing is underwhelming). Simon Estes, as the Dutchman, has a tremendous voice that impresses with its power. The Penguin Guide describes him as a "strong, ringing Dutchman, clear and noble of tone." He delivers an exciting performance, but at times he sings way too loudly. He totally drowns out Matti Salminen, which should never be done! The Dutchman should also be more terrifying than what Estes delivers, but never mind: he's pretty darn good here. I especially liked his rich, low tones, which you FEEL. Listening to him got easier in acts two and three because he's way upstage where his colossal voice can't do as much damage. His duet with Senta in Act Two, while their voices didn't fully match, was still wonderful.
Like a "wandering Jew of the ocean" (to quote Heinrich Heine), the Dutchman is condemned to eternally roam the seas on his ghost-ship, touching land every seven years to look for a wife since only the true love of a loyal woman can rescue him from his ceaseless wanderings. On the other hand, if the woman proves unfaithful, she is condemned to eternal damnation, so that the Dutchman's function in Heine's story seems to be largely moralistic. Although Wagner downplays the moralistic aspect relative to Heine (who wrote the story on which Wagner based his libretto), the stark moral element lingers like a ghost throughout the music drama, particularly in the emphasis that Wagner gives to the theme of redemption. Yet how are we to take Senta's suicide? It proves that her love is genuine, but one can't help thinking that she has also given herself over to evil forces.
Although Wagner repeatedly refers to the Dutchman as "pallid" and "pale," this production emphasizes Estes's African heritage by turning his boat into a slave ship. The first time we see it, its hull opens to reveal the Dutchman inside, in chains. The production also veers away from Wagner's instructions in that the libretto itself begins on a "steep rocky shore," but here we open already in Daland's house, with the entire first act appearing as though it were a fantasy or reminiscence of Senta's, who hovers over all that transpires. I had mixed feelings about this. It works for me in so far as it provides an engrossing and psychologically provocative visual accompaniment to the Overture, which is here played ravishingly by the orchestra. I also found it clever that at the end there are two Dutchmen, the real one whom her father wants her to marry (although in keeping with Senta's perspective we never quite see his face) and the vivid yet phantasmagoric one of Senta's wild imagination, played by Estes.
The sound engineering is so-so. At times the recording might sound a little unevenly balanced. While the wait for a perfectly clear Dutchman on DVD continues, this one's definitely worth getting. I found the conducting more manacing and dramatic than the relatively tame Sawallisch Dutchman on DVD, even if the latter boasts of Donald McIntyre's truly demonic dutchman.
Update: I gave this Flying Dutchman only three stars because of Estes' overly loud singing, which annoyed me (I keep thinking of Maria Callas, who called loud singing vulgar) and because the recording, while not bad, isn't as clear as I would have liked it to be. But after watching it again, I'm convinced that I should have given it at least four stars. I highly recommend this production, even if it isn't perfect."