Tom’s Review: Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” Sails into Los Angeles, Making a Terrific Splash – L. A. Opera, March 9, 2013

Commemorating stellar super-composer Richard Wagner’s 200th Birth Date on May 22, 2013, Los Angeles Opera joins many other opera companies, worldwide, by presenting one of his most entrancing-dramatic works, Der Fliegende Hollaender — The Flying Dutchman.

The cast features Tomas Thomasson as The Dutchman, making his Los Angeles Opera debut. Tomasson’s Dutchman brought down the house. He scored a home run at Los Angeles Opera as did this entire production.

[Below: Tomas Tomasson as the Dutchman; resized image, based on a Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]



A “Dutchman” Surprise: Makerov is Senta

That evening, Los Angeles Opera’s CEO Christopher Koelsch came onstage to announce a last-minute cast change to the production’s opening night audience.

Koelsch informed the production’s opening night audience, that Elizabette Matos, the artist scheduled to play the opera’s heroine Senta –  the leading lady in “Dutchman” –  had to bow out due to ill health. Matos was being replaced by Los Angeles native soprano Julie Makerov  making her debut here in what was to be an extraordinary evening for her career – and those of us in the audience.

Makerov was a serene, confident, dynamic truly Wagnerian soprano whose final lines sent chills up my spine! At the final curtain call she received a tumultuous, standing ovation!! Not a bad start with LA Opera!

[Below: Julie Makerov as Senta in the 2010 Canadian Opera Company production of “The Flying Dutchman”; edited image, based on a Michael Cooper photograph from]


Also in the cast is James Creswell as Daland —The Captain (Herr Kapitain — you’ll hear this again and again!),

Corey Bix was Erik,  a local huntsman in love with Senta, (so that a clash between Erik and the Dutchman is inevitable). Bix was also a cast change announced a few days previously.

Ronnita Nicole Miller, portrayed Mary, Senta’s old nurse and confidante.

[Below: James Creswell as Daland; edited image, based on a Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


Maestro Conlon

The opera is conducted by LA Opera’s super Renaissance-Man conductor James Conlon.

Why Renaissance man? Because among his many talents, he now gives detailed lectures (with recorded music) before each production — which garner an SRO crowd every time. Conlon is terrific in outlining what the piece is about.

I’ve heard and seen many giving this kind of a presentation, but Mr Conlon is the best in the business! Come on up one flight of stairs in the LA Music (sCenter to the great foyer under the gigantic, sparking crystal chandeliers an hour before curtain, grab a chair and enjoy!!

James Conlon told us he loves this piece and has special affection for it – and did that ever show tonight!!

The LA Opera Orchestra brass section was especially terrific — they came on stage with other soloists as the entire cast and production team in front of the roaring, whistling standing house.

The Lehnhoff Production

The production was new to Los Angeles, and designed by the iconoclastic German production designer Nicholas Lehnhoff.

This production is a Film Noir surreal miasma — Opera Noir as in a black-and-white motion picture of the 1920s, since nearly the entire production is in black, greys and white with only a hint of blue occasionally seen, until the last minutes when Daland’s crew celebrates a roaring good, boozy party as they are about to sail in fair winds, whirling about a flaming-red cauldron.

The unitary set is a large ship’s great iron, vertical superstructure ribs on stage right and left, with a captain’s bridge which rises and lowers. We never see the Der Fliegende Hollaender, except its wreckage as noted.

Much of the action is seen behind scrims with projections, lots of fog and smoke. It was performed without any intermission.

[Below: Production designer Nicholas Lehnhoff; resized image of a promotional photograph.]


Dutchman 101

As this piece is not seen all that often, here’s a short Opera 101 refresher: The Dutchman sea- captain is determined to round Africa’s notoriously rough-seas Cape of Good Hope in  a furious storm, and he swears aloud he shall accomplish his mission even if he has to sail the seas endlessly.

For those of us around during World War II, you’ll certainly remember the billboards telling us Loose talk sinks shipsSatan hears this oath and condemns the Dutchman to endlessly sail, relentlessly, forever, unless he can find a faithful woman who genuinely loves him.

But Satan, wanting to be seen as Mr Nice Guy, lets the Dutchman come ashore in search of that redeeming Lady every seven years (maybe to relieve that Seven-year itch James Conlon noted in his superb pre-opera talk before an SRO crowd).

[Below: a scene from the Lehnhoff production of “The Flying Dutchman”; edited image, based on a Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


The action starts on such a seven-year event after sailing the seven seas — Daland’s ship is in a Baltic port seeking shelter as is the Dutchman’s ship.

The Dutchman tells us of his woes and loneliness and his life-long need to find true love. He discusses this with Cap’n Daland, and notes his ship is laden with wonderful treasures, some of which he pulls out of a large white box filled with such goodies, to the huge interest and excitement of Daland. 

The Dutchman inquires of Cap’n Daland if he has a daughter – alas – Daland’s eyes light up as he gazes at that treasure box. As it turns out, since at least adolescence Senta has been transfixed by the myth and folklore of Der Fliegende Hollaender — indeed she has a portrait of him hanging in her bedroom.

The Dutchman, seeing possibly his redeeming true love right there at hand, seeks Daland’s permission to pursue Daland’s lovely daughter Senta.

Meanwhile Erik has similar plans. The two men are in collision, but at long last after much effort and disappointment, the Dutchman realizes he’s lost and very sadly bids her farewell, deferring to Erik. 

He then puts Der Fliegende Hollaender to sea for yet another seven years. As the fog lifts on stage, we see some wreckage of that ship floating on the sea, telling us the ship has disappeared under the waves.

But in fact Senta has genuine love for him but fears she is too late and he is gone forever. She tears herself from Erik’s arms and, screaming out to the Dutchman in a last, final hope to achieve everlasting happiness with him, delirious with grief, hurls herself into the sea, proclaiming “Praise your Angel for what he has said, Here I stand faithful to you until death.”

In true classic operatic tradition, The Dutchman and Senta are united in death – and he finds redemption at long last through her and with her. The music of the last moments is classically Wagnerian at his best – a portent of even grander music to come as when Bruennhilde rides her horse into the flaming, crashingValhalla at the end of Wagner’s stupendous Twilight of the Gods — Die Goetterdaemmerung, or the overwhelming end of Siegfried when he and Bruennhilde are united in love (snarky Anna Russell points out she’s his aunt!!!).

[Below: a scene from the Lehnhoff production of “The Flying Dutchman” ; edited image, based on a Robert Millard photograph, courtesy of the Los Angeles Opera.]


Me and the Dutchman

Anyone who has ever been at sea in a storm, like on a cruise ship in roiling, rough weather, knows that Mother Nature can get very angry and ugly indeed.

Wagner experienced this sailing from the old capitol of East Prussia, Koenigsberg (now called Kalinengrad in Russia – many in my family came from there!) sailing west across this often very mischievous Baltic Sea – in his own words this terrifying experience left a lasting impression on him, ultimately finding its way into Wagner’s version of a popular myth about a phantom ship destined to sail the seven seas without respite, until her Kapitain could finally be blessed with redemption.

I’ve been a sailor for 60+ years having a chance to sail on some square rigger tallships — including unwelcome storm sequences, which I’ve also endured in my own sailing boats! And I can assure you, knowing and loving this glorious piece well since teenage-times, in these stormy events the thrilling music of Der Fliegende Hollaender thundered in my head!!

Over 60+ years attending opera, I’ve been privileged to see all of Wagner’s operas, some many, many times — certainly including Dutchman (its name in the opera-biz) which I will go to see wherever I am or can be.

Dutchman came early in Wagner’s career, just following his first true operatic success Rienzi in 1845, and followed by his first undisputed world-scale masterpiece “Tannhäuser” in 1845, ending decades later in his utterly sublime, colossal Parsifal in 1882.

Just a little factoid for comic relief — the version of Dutchman Wagner used was based on a story about a Mr Schnabelwopski!! I’m not making this up, as the late Anna Russell — who loved to mimic Wagner’s opera’s, was wont to say.

All of Wagner’s opera’s from Rienzi to Parsifal, with his tectonic-scale four-opera, 18-hour Ring, Lohengrin, Tristan & Isolde, and Die Meistersinger in between, clearly reflect Wagner’s extraordinarily inventive musical concepts — unparallelled orchestration, stupendous climaxes (all earning him the universally ubiquitous term about music — and singers — on a Wagnerian scale), let alone his melodious genius and creation of leitmotifs — music repeatedly telling us the story, or following a specific character (like Siegfried) or object (like the sword in the Ring), in focus at the moment.

Dutchman certainly possesses all of these characteristics – and in abundance. As in Lohengrin, Goetterdaemmerung and Tannhaueser, an overall, sweeping, dominating theme prevails at the climax — the ultimate redemption of a desperate soul resulting from the intervention of a strong-willed,dynamic, remarkable, utterly brilliant woman (like Bruennhilde in the Ring, Isolde, and Senta in Dutchman).

Concluding Remarks

Your website host William will also report on this LA Opera Dutchman shortly and add his usual incisive perspectives to complete this article, highlighting the artists especially, but I wanted to provide a backgrounder on this wonderful piece showing some of the pictures and noting other details — reflecting my lifetime of adoring Wagner’s operas — certainly including Dutchman!!

I have seen every opera here in LA since LA Opera’s Day One, and this production has to be one of the ten best I’ve seen over those many happy years. Don’t miss it!!

Tom Rubbert