Bayreuth’s Flying Dutchman: First reviews

Bayreuth’s Flying Dutchman: First reviews


norman lebrecht

July 26, 2021

BR-Klassik (Bernhard Neuhoff): ….Cherniakov is a storyteller. But this thriller Schmonzette seems randomly slapped on Wagner’s idea drama: entertaining, but irrelevant. On the other hand, conductor Oksana Lyniv’s Bayreuth debut is a great success. Firm, energetic, to the point. How she whips up the orchestra surging, controlling the dynamics, making middle voices audible and coordinating difficult transitions, that’s really great cinema…

Georg Zeppenfeld is simply a fantastic Daland …John Lundgren sometimes sounds a bit dull as a Dutchman, especially in piano. The star .. maybe not so much because her voice is so beautiful – most of all, it’s intense…

The Times (Neil Fisher): Oksana Lyniv, Bayreuth’s first female conductor (it’s only taken 145 years), confidently contrasted Wagner’s two musical worlds: his sometimes awkward conjunction of the formal German “singspiel” with darker, dissonant psychological drama. Yet there were times when the music needed an extra jolt — and perhaps some extra decibels — to keep the momentum going.

Lyniv was not helped by Tcherniakov diluting the power of the overture with his convoluted backstory that remakes the entire piece. No ghosts, no ships: Tcherniakov sees John Lundgren’s Holländer as “H”, a local boy come back to his grim port town to take vengeance on the society that destroyed his mother, who had an affair with Georg Zeppenfeld’s Daland (a fine, hard-bitten performance) that pushed her to suicide…. Asmik Grigorian’s Senta is a sensation. Histrionically it’s overegged — the baggy clothes, sulky faces and blonde-streaked hair suggest a Wagnerian tribute act for Billie Eilish — but the Lithuanian sings with such a febrile quality that her voice gets under your skin and into your bloodstream. Grigorian deserved the most thunderous ovation I’ve heard in this house.


  • A.L. says:

    No matter what the newspapers will tell you, Grigorian was far from the star of the show. Her voice is too thin and underpowered for the role. Her technique is more of a popular singer’s than suitable for opera. But in the era of hyper-lookism her androgynous looks will get her far as they are useful and appealing to postmodernism on steroids, which this production was. Makes one wonder if Bayreuth’s days are numbered. The genuine star is Lyniv who steered the ship exceptionally well if at times a bit tentatively. She will certainly improve through the run. Prudenvskaya, Zeppenfeld and Cutler were all fine. But Bayreuth has been unable to cast a genuinely great Holländer for 22 years and counting.

    Titus, Studer and Silvasti in the rousing finale:

    • Novagerio says:

      You have obviously not heard her live, you armchair-Hanslick-wannabe.

    • Helden Sopran says:

      I totally agree, in the main sentiment that today’s standards are nowhere near what we had 20 or 30 years ago!!!! I went to my favorite part and what I consider the centerpiece of this gorgeous masterpiece, namely the great second act duett, and of course the acid test of any great Senta is the launching phrase Er steht vor mir mit leidenvollen Zuegen… It is one of the grandest bel canto phrases in all of opera, when sung as Wagner specified “con gran portamento”. This requires a steady volume based on total control of the flow of air, the blessed fiato!!!! So the grand line is always supported and with roughly the same vocal weight as it slides from note to note con gran portamento. Lesser singers generally have a push and shove approach just to be able to get the notes, which is exactly what Ms Gregorian did, it was in fact a push and shove fest!!!!! I would consider this rendition to be one of the worst, and the poor girl had the worst partner imaginable, as he was not only pushing and shoving but literally grasping for air at every note! None of this was helped by the execrable conducting of someone who has absolutely no feeling whatsoever for the grandeur of this music, and its glorious vocal line. Amazing this passes as a successful performance at Bayreuth these days!!!
      While the excerpt you present from 1999 is wonderful, most especially the amazingly idiomatic conducting of Peter Schneider, I’d also humbly suggest young Flagstad and Behrens as representatives of great Sentas that truly did honor to that blessed second act duet, and sang with truly grand “con gran portamento”. Behrens magnificent both with Segerstam at Savonlinna, and von Dohnanyi in the Decca recording.

      • Helden Sopran says:

        Having now listened to the entire acts 2 and 3 I can unequivocally lay the blame mostly to the conductor for the majority of the deficiencies of this performance. The glorious act 2 duet is a gorgeous languid slow waltz, and as such should have that very delineated rhythmic acuity of a waltz. It is easy to imagine Wagner intended Senta to feel as if she is waltzing across the vast room in the arms of the Dutchman, in an erotic dream sequence as she realizes in her mind her neurotic fantasies. As such, the musical lines are exactly as graceful as the balletic movements of a gorgeously tragic pas de deux sliding from position to position seamlessly and smoothly, hence the vocal requirement for evenness and “con gran portamento”. I suspect even the greatest singers would have failed to convey that given the erratic, mostly static support they were getting from the orchestra. There was no sense of propulsion forward, and certainly no rhythmic support let alone the requisite abandon.
        That the same conductor just totally fell apart in act 3 is of course no surprise. The Dutchman has felled more than one GREAT conductor during the fiendishly difficult dueling antiphonal choruses of the great confrontation between villagers and ghost-sailors! And then the exalted finale, one need only listen to the magnificent Peter Schneider in 1999, for example, to know how that music should go! And to think that Peter Schneider’s name was always followed with epithets like hack, routinier, Kapellmeister at best. What would we give to have a musician of his rank today!!! instead of all these gimmicks and cultural fashions that never translate into quality!!!!! Katharina Wagner has made a specialty of this cultural fashion nonsense, and she will be forever damned for what she’s done to Bayreuth during her sordid tenure!

      • BrianB says:

        Not to mention Astrid Varnay and the great Leonie Rysanek.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      That time of the operatic year again? ‘Bayreuth’s (fill in your own house here) days are numbered.’ The singing is not what it was. And don’t even mention the production style. At least A.L. only goes back 22 years to find something ‘great’. There will be those who will wish to go back even further to hold onto the view that what was is always better than what is. And there is the rub.

      Opera, and the Lyric Arts in general are doomed to die with their audience unless they innovate and rejunenate both what’s on stage but also who is in the audience, because sadly they are still reliant on their back catalogue of classic works (name a post war work, let alone one from the past 20 years, that regularly gets a staging) and the singers that are currently available. Whilst all that those with really long memories of a past ‘golden age’ have left is the luxury of disparaging them and comparing them with an event that is now nothing more than a fond remembrance for a fortunate few.

      If Bayreuth’s and other’s days are numbered it is because so are the days of the audience who can still remember those good old days that each year they tell us will be no more from their seat in the Parkett that they are even now fortunate to enjoy and from which they carp and criticise the current fall in standards.

      • Saxon says:

        Cynic writes: “Opera, and the Lyric Arts in general are doomed to die with their audience unless they innovate and rejunenate what’s on stage”

        Endlessly repeating this hoary old chestnut doesn’t make it any more true. The aim seems to be always to reach out to a mythical new audience which “would attend if only what was performed was new”. However, this new audience has never appeared, and the old audience feels it is held in contempt by such attitudes: if you lose them then the art form really will be in trouble.

    • tim mellin says:

      You can’t be serious about the Titus, Studer, Silvasti comment. “too thin and underpowered” is what Studer is in that; and there’s no nuance in the score’s conducting……it’s just sped through with no nuance either. Don’t know how you came to the above conclusion about Senta and Venderdecken in yesterday’s show, but at least you got Lyniv’s review right.

  • FrankInUsa says:

    I believe in change. I certainly don’t want to see winged helmets etc. This is Opera and it is Music,Plot. It seems the stage directors still are firmly in charge. It is simply wrong when any type of visual staging takes precedent over the music/plot. It seems that the conductor,first female in Bayreuth, is getting good reviews yet this is somewhat lessened by discussion of the staging. IMHO,conductors need to start saying NO!!! to staging that interferes with the Music/Plot. I think only conductors can have an impact. Although I advocate change,my stated opinion may actually be seen as old-fashioned.

    • BrianB says:

      An astounding revelation in Riccardo Muti’s recent Opera News interview was when he admitted the even a conductor of his push, clout and presumed power is completely unable to veto or alter or influence stage director and producer madness these days. It isn’t even a case of the tail wagging the dog. In opera today the director IS the dog.

    • tim mellin says:

      Agreed, but an ending where Mary / Mom / shoots Daland as revenge would have had greater dramatic effect , because then the final ending would have been more faithful to the libretto….she gets her revenge on the guy who created all the issues in Act 1, and then all 3: Dutchman, Senta, and Mom are vindicated / redeemed. Plus, how do you kill someone who’s already dead to begin with ?

  • M McAlpine says:

    Just why people queue for years and pay high prices to see this sort of nonsense served up is quite beyond me.

  • Mox says:

    Almost all of the comments show the sheer envy of would-be people. I saw and heard Ligendza, Silja, Nilson, Studer and Kampe live. All vocally different but wonderful. Gregorian is on the same level but simply breathtaking as an actress. Regarding the comments and also the criticisms that mock the director, I can only say: first think, then write. It’s just a problem if the IQ is lower than the level of education

    • A.L. says:

      Um, nope. Grigorian is nowhere near their level nor will she be. Her technique is that of a pop-music singer’s, like another of her kind, Diana Damrau. And so many others today. And the voice is unrecognizable from too many others. As far as acting, the others you listed are/were just as breathtaking, if not more so, because they were taught musically informed acting married to many important elements such as, well, music, plot, language, surroundings, etc. But mostly, it is about voice and vocal personality. And about creating an impacting impression through vocal means. And this is where AG comes up short, I am afraid.

      • Helden Sopran says:

        I agree again A.L. and would just like to add that Grigorian’s diction is pretty terrible, words like Zuegen and Beluegen sound as from another language, likewise Lundgren when he utters the all important Sehnsucht, simply unintelligible! in the old days you would probably have a Karajan or a Boehm or a Stein or a Kleiber or a Schneider just drill those into the singer’s brain, what could these singers expect from a beginner conductor who is very unlikely not even a German-speaker??!?! and that at Bayreuth?!?!?!

  • BrianB says:

    The Marschallin said it best: Laß Er mich mit dem Tratsch in Ruh!

  • John UWS says:

    Question–Ive watched the DG stream of the premier- I am confused about the picture Senta pulls from her “mother’s” purse. It doesnt look like the Dutchman and the mother is flustered by it– what was that all meant to portray?

  • B.R. says:

    On the other hand, I did think the picture was of the Dutchman (albeit a flattering pose), but what in heaven’s name was a picture doing in her purse? Did she know him? What was their connection? And, why did she seem so distraught by its being revealed?