DW Festival Concert: Richard Wagner′s ′The Flying Dutchman′ | Music | DW | 29.11.2021

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DW Festival Concert

DW Festival Concert: Richard Wagner's 'The Flying Dutchman'

We've all heard it at weddings and in movies: "Till death do us part." But what if the vow was "Till my death sets you free"?

Listen to audio 116:25

DW Festival Concert: Richard Wagner's 'The Flying Dutchman'

In this episode, we're listening to a performance of Richard Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman" that was part of the 2021 Bayreuth festival. The opera deals with a cursed sea captain who can only be saved by love that remains true through death.

It's one of Wagner's most famous operas and also one of his shorter ones. We'll be hearing an abridged version directed by Dmitri Tcherniakov – who has added a twist to the ending – and featuring Oksana Lyniv conducting the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra.

German bass Georg Zeppenfeld plays Captain Daland and Lithuanian soprano Asmik Grigorian is his daughter, Senta. US tenor Eric Cutler appears as Senta's suitor, Erik, and Russian mezzo-soprano Marina Prudenskaya is Senta's nurse, Mary. German tenor Attilio Glaser plays the helmsman and Swedish baritone John Lundgren plays the role of the Dutchman.

Watch video 26:01

Center Stage: Oksana Lyniv conducts Wagner

The first woman conductor at Bayreuth

Richard Wagner's operas feature strong female characters, and in Russian director Dmitri Tcherniakov's version, another woman plays a pivotal role: Ukrainian conductor Oksana Lyniv, the first woman conductor in the history of the Bayreuth Festival.

Conducting "The Flying Dutchman" was an exciting experience for Lyniv, not least because she finds Wagner's music so intense. "Wagner's music is a very strong drug. Once you've tried it, you miss it a lot. I even wrote on Facebook once that when you conduct Wagner, it's like the air is on fire under your hands," she says.

But Lyniv also knows that being a female conductor poses certain challenges: "It's difficult for every woman to assert herself at first, but now you can feel that times have changed. It's also important for me to be a positive example for the future. But whether I'm a woman or a man doesn't make the Dutchman score any easier or harder."

Oksana Lyniv holds a baton in front of an old building

Oksana Lyniv became the first woman conductor at the Bayreuth Festival when she led the musicians in 'The Flying Dutchman'

The plot of 'The Flying Dutchman'

Tcherniakov has turned Wagner's story of redemption into a revenge thriller. As in Wagner's telling, the Dutchman has been cursed to wander the seas on his ghostly ship until he can find a woman who will be true to him through death. But in Tcherniakov's version, he is also seeking revenge on Captain Daland, his mother's former lover who drove her to her suicide.

He wants to get Daland's daughter, Senta, to promise to love him till death – and then join him in it. The first part's famous musical moments include the sailor's chorus "Hoyohey! Halloyo!"; the helmsman's aria "With tempest and storm on distant seas"; and the Flying Dutchman's aria "The time has come."

Watch video 02:22

The fascinating Bayreuth Festival

When the Dutchman arrives in the small city, no one knows who he is. Daland, tempted by the Dutchman's riches, promises him Senta's hand in marriage. Senta herself is obsessed with the story of the Flying Dutchman and dreams of being the one to break his curse. When Daland brings the Dutchman to meet her, he tells her of his plight and she vows to be his wife.

However, things later go awry between the Dutchman's crew and the local sailors. As they fight, the Dutchman pulls out a gun and fires, killing people.

A different version

Now comes the spoiler: Dmitri Tcherniakov's production has a totally different ending than the one in Richard Wagner's preferred version of the opera. Wagner wrote two different endings, but the one he favored – and which is most commonly performed – has Senta and the Dutchman jumping off a cliff together and then rising into heaven.

In Tcherniakov's version, everything is destroyed. The ghost ship's crew set fire to the houses and buildings. The Flying Dutchman believes he has been betrayed and turns to return to his ghost ship. As Senta once again promises to be true to him till death, Mary – usually Senta's nurse but in this production her stepmother – appears at the edge of the stage and shoots the Dutchman in the back.

Wagner expert Sven Friedrich points out that director Tcherniakov's ending, while quite brutal, actually retains the music from Wagner's preferred ending. "Tcherniakov doesn't entirely get rid of the redemptive end, because it's still in the music. There are actually two endings to the Dutchman: There's the so-called hard, tragic ending, which tends to be rarely performed, and then there is the so-called transformative, redemptive ending."

Friedrich is surprised by the way Tcherniakov tells the story, "because you expect the hard ending, but you get the redemptive ending. In this case, that means redemption hasn't actually taken place. It could be a hope, or maybe just a statement that transcends all the brutality that just took place."

Performances featured in this DW Festival Concert:

1. Richard Wagner, "The Flying Dutchman"

Performed by: Bayreuth Festival Orchestra

Conductor: Oksana Lyniv

2. Richard Wagner, "The Flying Dutchman"

Performed by: Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus

Conductor: Oksana Lyniv

Sung by: Georg Zeppenfeld (Daland)

Attilio Glaser (helmsman)

John Lundgren (Dutchman)

Cristina Burack

DW Festival Concert show host Cristina Burack

3. Richard Wagner, "The Flying Dutchman"

Performed by: Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus

Conductor: Oksana Lyniv

Sung by: Asmik Grigorian (Senta)

Marina Prudenskaya (Mary)

4. Richard Wagner, "The Flying Dutchman"

Performed by: Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus

Conductor: Oksana Lyniv

Sung by: Asmik Grigorian (Senta)

Eric Cutler (Erik)

5. Richard Wagner, "The Flying Dutchman"

Performed by: Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus

Conductor: Oksana Lyniv

Sung by: Asmik Grigorian (Senta)

George Zeppenfeld (Daland)

John Lundgren (Dutchman)

6. Richard Wagner, "The Flying Dutchman"

Performed by: Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus

Conductor: Oksana Lyniv

Sung by: Asmik Grigorian (Senta)

George Zeppenfeld (Daland)

John Lundgren (Dutchman)

7. Richard Wagner, "The Flying Dutchman"

Performed by: Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus

Conductor: Oksana Lyniv

Sung by: Asmik Grigorian (Senta)

George Zeppenfeld (Daland)

John Lundgren (Dutchman)

All music recorded by Bavarian Radio (BR) at the Bayreuth Festival Theater, Bayreuth, on July 25th, 2021

This "DW Festival Concert" was produced at Deutsche Welle with sound engineer Thomas Schmidt, producer and Russian show host Anastassia Boutsko, and host Cristina Burack. Text and production by Gaby Reucher.

Edited by: Manasi Gopalakrishnan

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