Martin Kušej’s production of Der fliegender Holländer for De Nederlandse Opera recorded in 2010 is high concept and it’s worth looking at the interviews with the cast and conductor before watching the main event. Certainly the essay in the booklet will do little to prepare you. For Kušej, Daland’s ship is a cruise ship or pleasure yacht full of expensively dressed partygoers. The Dutchman’s “crew” are refugees or desperate economic migrants. The Dutchman himself has made his pile in human trafficking. The framework of the “outsiders” wanting a share of the “insiders'” goodies is the backdrop for the interpersonal drama of Senta, the Dutchman and Erik.
Does it work? Yes and no. The concept holds up pretty well in the chorus heavy scenes but it never really seems to connect with the central drama. Sure, it provides a way of identifying dowdy Senta and proletarian Erik as in some sense different from the glitz gang, headed by platinum blonde queen bee Mary, but it doesn’t provide any real rationale for Senta’s fascination with the Dutchman legend or why she takes to the actual Dutchman as presented. A Dutchman shorn of the mythical elements is a bit hard to navigate. At worst though it makes for interesting visuals.
The performances are good. For me, the star is Catherine Nagelstad’s tautly acted and gorgeously sung Senta. The famous ballad combines intensity and lyricism quite beautifully. Not far behind come conductor Hartmut Haenchen and the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus. It’s a tightly held together and thrusting vision of the score and quite exciting in places. Juha Uusitalo is a dryly powerful but effective Dutchman who has excellent chemistry with Nagelstad. Marco Jentzsch is a suitably tortured Erik. Seventy year old Robert Lloyd is a Daland who works well in this concept and Marina Prudenskaja makes the most of the glammed up Mary.
The DVD is pretty good. Joost Honselaar gives the big scenes a chance to be seen and is undistracting. The overture and interludes are given an interesting black and white treatment. The picture quality is very good, if not the best, and the DTS sound track sounds really open and well balanced. Oddly the stereo track is Dolby rather than PCM. The production is also available on Blu-ray which I expect would improve both picture and sound. The booklet contains an academic essay and a synopsis but not a track listing. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Spanish and Dutch.
I can’t imagine this would be anyone’s first choice for this work. It’s just too quirky. I guess I still prefer the rather dated Harry Kupfer Bayreuth production.