Chicago Opera Review: THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (Lyric Opera)

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by Barnaby Hughes on October 3, 2023

in Music,Theater-Chicago


A bold choice with which to open the opera and Halloween seasons, Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman hits all the right notes and sets a spooky tone. From the composer’s magnificent and moody overture to the opera’s mythological subject (inspired by the Wandering Jew of legend), this Lyric production packs a powerful punch. At 2 hours and 20 minutes without intermission, The Flying Dutchman leaves audiences feeling exhilarated, but not exhausted. This production provides a perfect balance of stagecraft and scenery, cast and orchestra, acting and singing.

Ryan Capozzo as the Steersman, Tomasz Konieczny as the Dutchman, Tamara Wilson
as Senta, Mika Kares as Daland, Melody Wilson as Mary and the Company
Tomasz Konieczny as the Dutchman, Mika Kares as Daland, and the Company

Richard Wagner (1813-1883), who wrote the libretto and score for The Flying Dutchman, tells a haunting story of how faithful love can set even the accursed free. When the eponymous mariner hails a passing ship in the night, its captain Daland invites him aboard. When the Dutchman gives Daland jewels in exchange for hospitality, Daland seeks to gain more of the Dutchman’s wealth by offering his daughter’s hand in marriage. Despite having promised herself to the hunter Erik, Daland’s daughter Senta yearns for the mysterious man whose portrait she adores. She immediately recognizes the Dutchman as that man and agrees to marry him. Conversely, the Dutchman recognizes Senta as the woman whose love can set him free from his accursed wandering. Rather than let her go, Erik kills Senta, whose faithfulness to the Dutchman sets the wanderer free. It is a tidy ending, both tragic and romantic.

Ryan Capozzo Mika Kares Tomasz Konieczny
Melody Wilson as Mary and the Company

Tamara Wilson is clearly a Lyric audience favorite, gaining a rapturous ovation on opening night for her role as Senta. While Wilson is good, especially singing her role’s famous Act II aria, this reviewer favors the men of the cast. Finnish bass Mika Kares, seen once before at Lyric as the Commendatore in Don Giovanni (2019/20), plays Daland. It is a role that suits him better, giving him more opportunity to display a range of emotions via gesture and voice. The last is wonderfully clear and strong, even at its deepest. Tomasz Konieczny, last seen in Wozzeck (2015/16), plays the Dutchman with plenty of controlled angst and brooding. His artistry is particularly apparent in the blend and balance he achieves in dialogue and duet with others.

Tamara Wilson as Senta and Tomasz Konieczny as the Dutchman
The Company of The Flying Dutchman

Ryan Capozzo, a second-year Ryan Opera Center member, who made his stirring debut as Remendado in last season’s Carmen, shows again why he is a star on the rise. An excellent singer-actor, Capozzo’s youthful and sumptuous tenor is like a breath of fresh air. His Steersman lucidly sleeps and dreams, but also comically questions his captain’s actions with nary a word. Robert Watson’s Erik is a much less sympathetic character, or at least that’s how he is played in this production. It’s not the most impressive debut, but Watson makes it work. Melody Wilson as Mary also makes her Lyric debut. While her voice doesn’t quite rise to the occasion, her character’s gray wig doesn’t help either. It is the weakest performance of all.

Tomasz Konieczny as the Dutchman
Mika Kares as Daland and the Company

Maestro Enrique Mazzola conducts The Flying Dutchman with energy and confidence. He manages to keep an artful balance between the orchestra, chorus and soloists, so that one never overwhelms the other. Mazzola has conducted Wagner operas elsewhere, but this is his first at Lyric. One hopes that this will not be his last, that Lyric audiences will get to see the final installment of the Ring Cycle that was canceled due to the pandemic.

Tamara Wilson as Senta and Melody Wilson as Mary
The Company of The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman’s setting shifts each scene from ship to home to harbor. Set designer Allen Moyer evokes each with minimal set changes. The angled floor mimics the movement of the waves without actually rocking, keeping the whole production slightly off balance quite literally and not just in mood. The ship’s steering wheel easily doubles as a spinning wheel and symbol of fate’s turning. Director Christopher Alden deftly stages the action in ways that make good use of the set’s maritime capabilities, from the furling of sails in the opening storm to the Dutchman’s ghostly crew below deck. And, surprisingly, he mines a few laughs in what is an otherwise deadly serious production.

The Company of The Flying Dutchman
Ryan Capozzo as the Steersman, Tomasz Konieczny as the Dutchman, and the Company

This Flying Dutchman sets a high bar for the 2023/24 season, which is one of the most diverse in recent memory. In addition to this Germanophone production, Lyric will perform works in English, French, Italian, Czech and Latin. Moreover, there is increasing visibility of women and people of color, whether on stage or off, and on the podium. Audra McDonald performs at this season’s opening gala on October 6.

Tomasz Konieczny, Tamara Wilson, Mika Kares, Melody WIlson
Tamara Wilson as Senta and Robert Watson as Erik

photos © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2023

Tomasz Konieczny and Tamara Wilson
The Company of The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive
ends on October 7, 2023
for tickets, call 312.332.2244 or visit Lyric Opera

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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