The Flying Dutchman
Opera Hong Kong
Cultural Centre Grand Theatre
Reviewed: October 10
To mark the 200th anniversary of German composer Richard Wagner's birth, Opera Hong Kong has staged a fine production of The Flying Dutchman.
Composed in 1843 when Wagner was 30, this work, while shorter and more accessible than his later operas, carries the hallmarks of his mature compositions, with its rich, dark orchestral colours, epic arias and extensive use of leitmotif.
The story is taken from Heinrich Heine's version of the maritime legend: a ghost ship is doomed to wander the oceans for eternity as punishment for its captain's impiety.
But every seven years the ship will make landfall and if the captain can find a faithful wife, the curse will be broken.
Arriving in Norway, the Dutchman meets Captain Daland, who promises him his daughter, Senta. She dreams of being the one to redeem the Dutchman and falls in love with the mysterious stranger.
However, the jealous actions of her former lover, Erik, lead the Dutchman to doubt her. In despair, he sets sail again, but Senta throws herself into the sea to be with him forever - and her sacrifice redeems him.
Adolf Dresen's production, originally created at Deutsche Oper am Rhein and restaged here by Volker Böhm, tells the story with simplicity and power.
Stunning designs by Wolf Münzner, in a palette of black, white and notes of vivid red, include two full-sized ships.
On the first night, the sense of doom wasn't entirely felt and the spectacular sets looked cramped on the Cultural Centre stage. (Hong Kong badly needs a real opera house - and why hasn't one been planned for West Kowloon?)
Still, this was an excellent evening and an impressive first-ever staging of a Wagner opera by a local troupe.
Conductor Henrik Schaefer drew a lively, well-paced reading of the score from the Hong Kong Philharmonic.
Manuela Uhl gave a vivid portrayal of Senta, skilfully building to the powerful climax, although there could have been more interaction with Jukka Rasilainen's (left) strongly sung but static Dutchman.
Kurt Rydl was a flamboyant, colourful Daland and Tomislav Mužek an impassioned Erik with a bright, ringing tenor. Carsten Suss' Steersman displayed scene-stealing lyricism and personality.
Special praise goes to outstanding work by the Opera Hong Kong Chorus, who took a huge step forward, singing Wagner's complex music with clarity and power.