[Met Performance] CID:256750
New production
Der Fliegende Holländer {106} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/8/1979.

(Debuts: Carol Neblett, Pet Halmen

Metropolitan Opera House
March 8, 1979
New production


Dutchman................José Van Dam
Senta...................Carol Neblett [Debut]
Erik....................William Lewis
Daland..................Paul Plishka
Mary....................Jean Kraft
Steersman...............William Lewis
Sleeping Steersman......Robert Remington

Conductor...............James Levine

Director................Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Set designer............Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
Costume designer........Pet Halmen [Debut]
Lighting designer.......Gil Wechsler

Der Fliegende Holländer received ten performances this season.

[This production of Der Fliegende Holländer was created by the San Francisco Opera Association and was especially designed to be shared by the Metropolitan Opera.]

Production gift of the Gramma Fisher Foundation

Review of Robert Jacobson in the May 1979 issue of Opera News

Rarely has the Metropolitan been filled with so much booing as after its premiere of Jean-Pierre PonneIle's version of Wagner's "Fliegende Holländer" on March 8, a production first seen in San Francisco two seasons ago. Though innovation is the lifeblood of the theater, Ponnelle's concept for the composer's early work proved so perverse, so arbitrary and so antimusical and untextual that one suspects a search for novelty at any cost, integrity tossed to the wind. Basically, Ponnelle has reworked the story as a dream experienced by the Steersman, who is also Erik, Senta's suitor. Making it a fantasy allows for an anything-goes approach, and almost anything does.

The Steersman falls asleep on deck of Daland's multi-tiered ship, on which all action transpires. (Strangely enough, while waves toss on either side of the ship, the stormy sky remains stationary.) At the Dutchman's appearance out of a small closet at the stern of the ship - he resembling Count Dracula - massive red sails, ropes, nets and skeletons provide a nautical nightmare. Daland suddenly becomes some half-dozen Mad Hatter figures, the Dutchman's treasures line his cape, and gold rains from the heavens. The Steersman's single wheel multiplies into dozens of spinning wheels in Senta's house, the girl herself confined to a small lighted platform at stage front, clad in a Middle European wedding dress, while the women are bound by ropes to Mary, and the Dutchman's portrait is nowhere to be seen. The sleeping Steersman all along has been doubled by a writhing mute, so musical duets become visual trios, and so on.

What we have, then, is the Steersman's obsession with Senta rather than the girl's own obsession with the man condemned to sail the seas. At the end there is no suicide, no redemption, only Senta's dogged following of the man into the closet at the top of the ship, the Steersman awakening from his dream. While these ideas might seem quite theatrical, here they proved only gimmicky effects, unable to be sustained by Wagner's lengthy musical pieces and text. Once Ponnelle had employed one striking fun-house effect after another, he merely abandoned each to go on to the next, all in the name of the dream. The principal fallacy of the dream idea is that the observer ceases to be interested in the characters or even to listen to the music itself. And if in "Der Fliegende Holländer" one does not become absorbed in and excited by Senta's abnormal preoccupations and the Dutchman's agony, the whole point is missed. Is Wagner's work so weak, so tawdry, as to demand revising? Ponnelle evidently believes so.

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