Voices Save a Choppy Sail of The Flying Dutchman

Just as the accursed wandering sailor in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman is redeemed by a woman's faithfulness, so too is a somewhat unfocused concept in Seattle Opera's production redeemed by superb singing. And, early on, by one splendid piece of stage magic that recalls the awe-inspiring Rings that Dutchman director Stephen Wadsworth led at Seattle Opera in 2001 and 2005: the slow emergence of the Dutchman's scarlet-sailed ghost ship out of a dark background to loom over a humble fishing boat. It's clearly a present-day vessel, and Captain Daland, his crew, their womenfolk, his daughter Senta, and her suitor Erik are all in modern dress: jeans and sweatshirts, work boots and windbreakers. The contrast between the Deadliest Catch trawler and the Master and Commander galleon is picturesque and affectingly ominous. The clash that is harder to reconcile, which really kept me from being immersed in the story, is not between new and old but between Wadsworth's pervasive, detailed naturalism and the heightened, romanticized approach this legend wants. Windbreakers aside, little about the production's look or feel suggests we're in a folktale realm or helps suspend disbelief that a woman's getting engaged to an immortal in an 18th-century gold-braided coat and no one thinks anything of it. It turns out Senta is not only willing to take a vow of faithfulness, but in fact has been dwelling for years on the Dutchman's legend and waiting for her chance. I missed this hint of semi-unhinged obsession in Jane Eaglen's portrayal; she's still a bit reserved and undemonstrative onstage. Later, when Erik confronts her, Jay Hunter Morris (who in fact does have Broadway straight-play experience) carries the scene, terrifically; in his plaid shirt and ball cap, his throbbing, wounded outrage suggests a powerful sort of Minnesota kitchen-sink realism. Then again, a lot of what we need to know about what Senta is feeling is right there in Eaglen's voice. Its hallmark is its effortless carrying power; in her midrange and at lower volume, it has a silken flow, a purity that Wagner surely would have reveled in hearing in his redeemer. (I'd have to go back and study tapes of her performances before I made any definitive observations about the diminishment over time of her breath control, but she did, seemingly out of necessity, break up a few phrases in places I didn't expect.) Greer Grimsley sings the Dutchman, and his bass-baritone makes a thrilling complement. His voice is dark, warm, and—though it may not sound like a compliment, when you hear him you'll know it is—a bit growly in the middle. His delivery has a direct, even conversational expressiveness, even in lyrical lines.

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