Wagner: Der Fliegende Hollander Complete Opera
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This superb 2-CD recording of "Der fliegende Hollander" ("The Flying Dutchman") crowns a series of 10 top Wagner operas recorded for Teldec by conductor Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Recognized as the most influential Wagner conductor of our time, Barenboim leads an all-star cast - with Jane Eaglen, Robert Holl, and Falk Struckmann - in this dark drama of peril and redemption. Barenboim's legendary Ring Cycles at Bayreuth are remembered as landmarks in the history of Wagner performance.
Daniel Barenboim's Wagner opera series for Teldec has been uneven, and so is this Dutchman. The big plus here is Falk Struckmann's assumption of the title role. He sings with a rich, firm baritone and invests his part with emotion. This is a character whose feelings and thoughts are made evident from singing without indulging in emphatic stresses and bumps that get in the way of the music. Peter Seiffert's ardent Erik also works well. He has the right voice type and sings with feeling. Robert Holl's Daland, though, is undercharacterized and lacks the low notes the role requires. There's little feeling in his singing of the greed that drives poor Senta's money-grubbing father. Following her recent Tannhäuser in the Barenboim series, Jane Eaglen's Senta disappoints. Today's leading Isolde is off her form; high notes are thinned out, and there's little bloom in the voice. The girl's innocence and obsessiveness just don't come through. Barenboim's leadership is suspect in the lurching between a Wagnerian equivalent of oompah music and quicker-tempo excitement. But since there really is no perfect choice for this opera (though the Otto Klemperer from 1968 has more virtues than most), many will find this version, flaws and all, worthy of consideration. --Dan Davis
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- Product Dimensions : 5 x 5.75 x 1.25 inches; 12.25 Ounces
- Manufacturer : Teldec / Warner Classics
- SPARS Code : DDD
- Date First Available : December 12, 2006
- Label : Teldec / Warner Classics
- ASIN : B00006F1PF
- Number of discs : 2
- Best Sellers Rank: #508,458 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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First of all is the conductor. Barenboim's tempi are generally on the slow side. While I personally prefer the more forceful versions of conductors like Keilberth and Haitink, the slower tempi work when there is still a sense of power and momentum, as in the versions by Klemperer and Furtwangler. But here there is no rythmic drive to this production--the tempi seem to vary arbitrarily for unexplained reasons and there are odd silences. While the silences in music can be just as effective as the sound, if overdone one tends to wonder if the stereo has suddenly gone off. Barenboim's dynamics also seem to vary for inexplicable reasons--perhaps to wake up the nodding listener. Periods of almost inaudibility will be followed by a blast of sound followed by another period of whisper-like quiet.
Then there are the soloists. Falk Struckmann isn't bad, just not remarkable. His is more the pensive and introspective Dutchman, rather than one of menace and power. You want to give him a cup of tea and tell him to buck up.
Jane Eaglen is simply not in good voice. Her top notes are thin and forced and the warm sumptuous tone that filled the Seattle opera hall and thrilled the audience last month is rarely in evidence. Her duet with her Seattle Dutchman (Greer Grimsley) had the audience on the edge of their seats. Her duet with Struckmann on this album is merely adequate.
And even luxury casting in the small roles doesn't help here. Dame Felicity Palmer, ordinarily a great mezzo-soprano, sounds like a second-rate stand-in. Robert Holl's Daland sounds detached and flat in affect, like he's simultaneously trying to figure out his income tax. Rolando Villazon is the Helmsman, and his singing is lovely in tone, but bizarre in interpretation. At moments he's practically crooning, and he takes such liberties with the tempo that you expect him to be leaning against a piano in a dimly lit cocktail bar. And there are more odd long pauses between phrases, as if he forgot the words. I can only assume he was doing this on the instructions of the conductor.
The best performance is by Peter Seiffert in the role of the hapless Erik. Seiffert sings with skill and drama, and conveys Erik's feelings of frustration and helplessness in the face of Senta's obsession with the Dutchman.
The chorus is fine although unremarkable. The sound is excellent.
Fans of the opera all have their particular favorite recording. Mine is the Klemperer, with Theo Adam and Anja Silja, followed a close second by the Keilberth, with Hermann Uhde and Astrid Varnay. Penguin's Opera Guide considers the Haitink, with George London and Leonie Rysanek as one of the finest recordings of any opera. There really are no BAD recordings, but unfortunately this one comes in near or at the bottom of the list.
My sole complaint--and its a big one--is that my boxed set was seriously crushed before it ever left amazon's warehouse. The back part of the jewel case was seriously crushed. Really lousy customer service, if you ask me. But the discs were playable, so I didn't return it.
In conclusion, I think you should avoid this rendition of Wagner's first successful opera. And avoid James Levine's rendition, too. Go for the Sinopoli, Solti, or Klemperer recordings.
Barenboim's conducting is well below par as well; lifeless and turgid, almost as horrible as James Levine was for his Sony set, which has a much better cast, by the way.
Falk Struckmann is an excellent Dutchman though he's not in best voice here, a bit wobbly but nothing terribly annoying. I expect he was infected by the deflating atmosphere of the entire project. The best singing is from Felicity Palmer, as MARY, the tiny subsidiary role of Senta's nurse (who one assumes is an orphan). It's a very dark day when the best singing in a very expensive recording of Holländer comes from the Mary.
Jane Eaglen's matronly, dull and covered-sounding singing is partnered by the woolly and dull Robert Holl as her daddy, Daland. The 'dulth' is over-spiced with two very Latinate tenors who sound like they've drifted ashore from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean. There was absolutely no reason at all to call in Plácido Domingo to sing Erik, aside from the fact that this set was clearly cast as an all-star extravaganza, gone terribly wrong as it turns out. Domingo sounds like he's singing in a Spanish tavern deep in the bowels of Sevilia. The role of Daland's boy, the steersman, features the recording debut of the ill-fated Rolando Villazon. Again, why? He's completely out of place in the North Sea and sounds ridiculous.
Peter Seiffert could easily have been called in for Erik and there are plenty of excellent light tenors around Germany for the smaller role of the Steersman. And why didn't Barenboim use his influence to put the nix on Eaglen and hire the wonderful Anne Schwanewilms who sang the role in the production at the Berlin State Opera at the time of these recording sessions?
And surely Matti Salminen could have been hired for Daland, anyone other than the decrepit Holl.
All in all a hugely disappointing set that I was very much looking forward to. Big names alone are never the answer to achieving fine artistic quality. This set is a real floater that should be avoided at all costs.