(By Luke Quinton, American-Statesman freelance arts critic.)November’s the season for Wagner, the great German composer. The leaves fall, dark afternoons descend, and the underworld of spirits seems at hand.
Enter the “Flying Dutchman,” a sea captain cursed after making an ill-advised deal with Satan, who is forced to wander the seven seas, returning home only once every seven years — and then, only to look for a sympathetic woman who will fall in love with him and break the Dutchman’s bondage.
If it sounds complicated, the plot in practice couldn’t be simpler. Few of the operatic conventions; the twists, plotting and betrayals are here on stage. Instead, on his ship, the Dutchman (baritone Wayne Tigges) broods about his plight with an eerie red twinkle in his eyes.Meanwhile, Daland (bass Peter Volpe) who captains a second ship, turns out to not be much of a judge of cursed captains. After meeting the Dutchman and eyeing his trove of gems, Daland proposes a marriage to his daughter, Senta (soprano Melody Moore).
The music, directed by conductor Richard Buckley is vigorously Wagnerian, a character unto itself, with oboe solos and other motifs which rise, sell and punctuate characters and their actions.
The chorus scenes, with women of the village gossiping and working woolen spinning wheels, and sailors reveling in the drunken night, are by far the most energetic elements of the story. Elsewhere, a brooding libretto maintains a stranglehold on the action, feeling slow and plodding.
At intermission, Austin Opera folks took the stage in front of a raised curtain, fielding questions from the audience about the set and the set change.
The set, by Arizona Opera, featured gray boards galore. Stairs, masts, sails and costumes brightened the palette slightly.
The ships felt mostly static. Visuals then are leaned on to take the depth of scenery, with videos of clouds and churning waves. The Dutchman’s ship is rendered in an appropriately eerie red cast on the rear screen, sketched in an intriguing, almost cartoon-like, mist. Ironically, perhaps the sketch adds more atmosphere than the chopped up low-resolution of the waves and clouds which seem neither old enough to hold stylistic character, or recent enough to flush the audience with the intensity of modern high definition video.
Wagner fans will be more satisfied with good solos from Melody Moore’s Senta, with a clear tone and solid acting, and with Peter Volpe’s welcome comic gestures, as Daland .
Austin Opera’s “The Flying Dutchman” plays once more, Nov. 20, at 3 p.m. at the Long Center.