IN 1839, when the emergent city of Atlanta was not yet Atlanta, but a destination at the end of a railroad line, Richard Wagner and his wife Minna were an ocean away, in the midst of a harrowing sea voyage that landed them in the Norwegian port of Sandviken. It was an experience that prompted Wagner to compose Der Fliegende Holländer in his Paris apartment over the next several years. Holländer is the opera that initially drew stage director Tomer Zvulun to Atlanta in 2009. Now in his current role as artistic and general director of the Atlanta Opera, Zvulun has collaborated with Houston Grand Opera and Cincinnati Opera to create a new production of Der Fliegende Holländer, which had its premiere on November 4 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
In this production there is no boat, rather only shadows and a blood-red sail when the Dutchman’s ship arrives. The action is brought to the 1950s. Senta works in a factory, distracted by her obsession with the legend of the cursed Dutchman. The Dutchman’s crew is a cohort of Bane look-alikes and eerie holograms. Scenic and costume designer Jacob A. Climer who scored a hit with his rainbow-like designs for AO’s 2016 production of Abduction from the Seraglio, demonstrated his versatility dream with his darker, industrial-looking landscape for Holländer.
Zvulun brought in a brand new cast of heavy hitters with the exception of one veteran, tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who sang the role of Erik in 2009. Wayne Tigges made his Atlanta Opera Debut as a grand, terrifying Dutchman. Mesmerizing visually and vocally, with the stature of a linebacker, Tigges’s crisp monologue, “Die Frist ist um,” conveyed a lifetime of Weltschmertz. The brilliant Melody Moore was Senta, her voluptuous voice resplendent in a powerful rendition of Senta’s ballad, and later in Act II, sounding eerily beautiful with uncompromising legato. Moore’s Senta was highly satisfying: not deranged, but possessed of an absolute devotion to the Dutchman, empathetic to his suffering and hope of redemption. Icelandic bass Kristinn Sigmundsson’s Daland was a greedy, but loveable father; his deep voice sounding rich and mellifluous.
Atlanta Opera studio artist Justin Stolz sang a rousing Steuermann while mezzo-soprano Olivia Vote, a recent member of the Internationales Opernstudio at Opernhaus Zürich sang the role of Mary with a voice that is much too interesting to be relegated to a career of comprimario roles.
Conductor Arthur Fagen and his orchestra were superb After a decade of uneven performances at the Atlanta Opera, the orchestra began the Holländer overture with unerring precision: the main theme of open fifths demonic sounding, woodwind entrances clean and limpid, and the dynamic variations unified throughout the pit. No opera company can excel without a proficient orchestra and if last night’s performance is an indication of things to come, Atlanta may have an opera company that is in the midst of its own redemption. —Stephanie Adrian