Claire Nowak

Why The Flying Dutchman Endures

Wagner’s powerful score and ghostly tale will boost a strong cast in Florentine production.

By - Oct 21st, 2014 02:40 pm
Danish tenor and International Wagner Competition 1st Prize winner David Danholt sings the role of Erik in the Florentine's new production of The Flying Dutchman Oct 24 & 26 @ The Marcus Center. Florentine Opera. Photo by Danielle Chaviano.

Danish tenor and International Wagner Competition 1st Prize winner David Danholt sings the role of Erik in the Florentine’s new production of The Flying Dutchman Oct 24 & 26 @ The Marcus Center. Florentine Opera. Photo by Danielle Chaviano.

The Flying Dutchman might never have been written if not for the debts that opera composer Richard Wagner owed. In 1839, the 26-year-old musician’s extravagant lifestyle had caught up with him, and he was being pursued by creditors. Wagner and his wife, whose passports had been seized by the authorities, booked an illegal passage on a ship from Riga to London that took three weeks, with the ship tossed by storms and high seas.

But for the composer, “The voyage through the Norwegian reefs made a wonderful impression on my imagination; the legend of the Flying Dutchman, which the sailors verified, took on a distinctive, strange colouring that only my sea adventures could have given it,” he later wrote.

The ghostly tale of the Dutchman, a sea captain cursed to sail forever because of a deal with the devil, and who can only be redeemed by the love of a faithful woman, inspired Wagner to create a masterwork with a powerful score. It was one of his early attempts to combine opera and drama in a style that came to be called music drama, and changed opera forever.

This weekend, the Florentine Opera Company, will present the show, in a production that could be a memorable one. It will be staged by director Paula Suozzi, well-known to Milwaukee audiences as a fine director of both theatrical and opera productions, who will soon make her debut as a director for New York’s Metropolitan Opera in a production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. The Florentine production will be conducted by the always-reliable Joseph Rescigno, and features a very strong cast.

Bass-baritone Wayne Tigges takes on the role of the Dutchman in Florentine’s production. “It’s that danger about the Dutchman that I think is the most appealing for this particular opera,” Tigges says.

The role poses a danger to Tigges as well. Wagner is notorious for writing vocal lines abnormally high for each singer’s range, and Dutchman’s music is no exception. “Many people have lost a career by singing too much Wagner and not singing it intelligently,” Tigges says.

With over 60 roles in his repertoire, Tigges has vast experience, and considers this one of the most difficult roles he has ever done. “I’ve spent a lot of attention and many hours going through all of the phrases note by note,” he says, “to make sure they’re all in a healthy position and that I can pace it properly to get through the opera.”

His cast mates, all internationally acclaimed singers, make up one of the best groups in the world to perform this production: British soprano Alwyn Mellor as Senta, bass Peter Volpe as her father, Daland, Danish tenor David Danholt as Erik, and mezzo-soprano Jenni Bank as Mary. Mellor recently sang Brünnhilde to sensational reviews in Seattle and Danholt recently won first prize at the 2014 Seattle Opera competition.

Tigges admits he is the “new guy” among the group: Before this production, he only sang light Wagner and never performed with anyone else in the cast.

But he is no stranger to the Florentine Opera. In 2012, he played Olin Blitch in the company’s production of Susannah. That music is more modern and jagged, what Tigges calls “a cerebral experience.” By contrast, Dutchman has more melody, so singers need to focus on producing a full tone rather than struggling with the intricate rhythms of Susannah. The latter was also performed in English while The Flying Dutchman will be sung in German with English supertitles shown above the stage.

Sustaining the notes required of Dutchman is the most challenging part of the show, but Tigges gets satisfaction from doing it, since few can sing the role. Performing Wagner requires much stamina and memorization since his shows are often longer than typical Italian operas

“The satisfaction at the end of doing it or finishing up the role and finding that you still have some type of voice is a major achievement,” he says. “The best part of this business is the respect you get from people afterwards.”

7:30 p.m. Oct. 24 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 26 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets range from $27-$121 and are available online or by calling 1-800-32-OPERA.

Knightwind Ensemble

Milwaukee’s premier adult wind ensemble, Knightwind Ensemble, will give its next performance at the South Milwaukee Performing Art Center at 3 p.m. Oct. 26. The nationally recognized community band plays under the direction of music director Dr. Erik Janners. Tickets range from $12-$15 and are available online.

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