A gloomy town center surrounded by orderly but claustrophobic buildings. Violence seething under the surface of respectability. A boy whose mother committed suicide after being abused by a town’s businessman returning years later to seek revenge. Ensuing chaos as the avenger named “H” (for Hollander) and his men unleash violence on town folks, leading to a shocking conclusion as Senta’s mother shoots “H” to protect her daughter. Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov creates a story of a troubled town where the traumatized boy “H” witnesses his mother’s suicide during the prelude. There is no sea or boat in this Dutchman. The director explains his retelling of the Dutchman’s story as being focused on his psychological being, but the story does not quite come together despite its many fascinating details.
There was much publicity and excitement about two women making Bayreuth debuts in this new production: a young Ukrainian, Oksana Lyniv, the first female conductor in Bayreuth (noted by Chancellor Angela Merkel), and a Lithuanian soprano, Asmik Grigorian, singing Senta. Lyniv’s conducting brought out the energy and power in Wagner’s early work, with the superb Bayreuth Festival Orchestra in full throttle from the first note. What we did not see on stage in the prelude was felt in the hard-edged strings, the dynamic winds and brass, and the commanding percussion. One wished for more nuance, color, and variety in dynamics in Lyniv’s reading, but it was an honest and straightforward interpretation, at odds with the sinister and perverse story of “H”’s revenge depicted on stage. As the performance went on, I became frustrated by the disconnect between the two.
Asmik Grigorian does not have the most distinct and beautiful voice, but she throws herself into her role with 100+ percent commitment and fierce determination, and she can submerge herself in the character she portrays. Her Senta was sung and acted with passion and abandon, supported by her solid technique and on-pitch singing, capped by thrilling top notes. Here, she is a rebellious teenager being pushed by her father into a marriage with a stranger. In this production, it is not easy to see if there is a sense of destiny in the union of “H” and Senta. Here, Mary is Senta’s mother and Daland’s wife; much of the duet between “H” and Senta takes place during the family dinner, with Daland proposing a toast and Mary fussing over the food.
John Lundgren is an experienced Wagner singer, known for his Dutchman and Wotan/Wanderer. Here, his voice sounded a bit dry, and he sometimes failed to project over the orchestra. The tenor Eric Cutler, in his Bayreuth debut, was a sturdy and well-grounded Eric with imposing stage presence. As Mary, Marina Prudenskaya made a strong impression in her brief scenes with her warm and plush voice. Tenor Attilio Glaser was a standout Steersman, with an incisive and ringing voice.
The best vocal performance for me came from Georg Zeppenfeld as Daland; he is blessed with a deep, sonorous, and enveloping bass voice. He can be a bit stiff on stage, but with a meticulous director such as Tcherniakov, his Daland became a three-dimensional character: a happily married family man who nevertheless has an affair with a vulnerable woman and discards her, driving her to suicide. If I were the director, however, I would have had “H” kill Daland towards the end, and not some random people on stage. Daland escapes from the mayhem, leaving Senta and Mary trembling at the violence on stage. One is left with an interesting stage drama and intriguing characters without consistency.
© Wagner Notes, October 2021, a publication of the Wagner Society of New York. All rights reserved.