Tonight was a chance to see and hear a total delight--without a doubt, the Glimmerglass Festival performance of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman (Der Fliegende Hollaender) was the best of several I've seen over the years. Mostly, it was director Francesca Zambello's imaginative production that made the evening so memorable. John Keenan led the company orchestra in a spirited rendition of the wonderful score.
The stage featured much in the way of nautical motifs--lots of ropes and fanciful representations of sails and decks and gunwhales. The screen at the rear of the stage benefitted from use of gradual blackout and the ensemble did a nice job of dancing what appeared to be traditional sailors' steps. I found the cast generally excellent with Melody Moore as Senta, the heroine who strives to save the haunted and cursed title character, and Peter Volpe as Daland, her mercenary sea-captain father, a fine bass, the standouts. Jay Hunter Morris, who hit the Wagnerian big time as Siegfried in the Met's massive Ring series, was a strong Erik in a supporting role.
The performance worked the way festival opera presentations should: a production broke new ground in its conception and combined with excellent orchestral backing to give the audience a wonderful exposure to Wagner's finest early work. The pre-performance lecture emphasized how in Dutchman he was still utilizing many of the approaches of Italian opera, especially the bel canto era of Donizetti, Bellini, and Rossini which had just preceded Wagner's (and Verdi's) birth(s) 200 years ago. So this Wagner opera has duets and trios as well as recognizable arias, which were mechanisms he moved past by the time of the later masterpieces such as the Ring operas.
Glimmerglass is now on the top level of American summer opera festivals, joining Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, which I've been lucky enough to visit, and the Santa Fe Opera, which I still hope to see one of these days. Ms. Zambello, the director tonight who also head the festival is also in charge of the Washington National Opera, where I'm looking forward to seeing in the next two months productions of Tristan und Isolde, and with even more expectation to Verdi's La Forza del Destino, one of my personal favorites.