Der fliegende Holländer
Studio recording in stereo
March-November, 1991
Conductor: Christoph von Dohnányi
DalandKurt Rydl
SentaHildegard Behrens
ErikJosef Protschka
MaryIris Vermillon
SteuermannUwe Heilmann
HolländerRobert Hale
Wiener Philharmoniker
Chor der Wiener Staatsoper
Decca, 436 418-2 2 CDs DDD
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Review by Alan Peters

This truly transitional work of Wagner's is always, one can't help but think, of prime importance in his development as a musician. Wagner, at this time, was hardly free of foreign influences in his compositional thinking; "Die Feen," "Liebesverbot" and "Rienzi" are obvious proof. In the "Holländer", Wagner finally begins to work free of his French and Italian coils but is still, to some extent, trapped by convention.

This early work of his, after the revisions Wagner made in the overture and the ending, still delight and move one; while he was decades from the sheer beauty of the "Ring," and his later works, the "Holländer" offers up some lovely music. Christoph von Dohnányi, who clearly has moved to the front ranks of Wagnerian conductors, is largely responsible for the success of this splendid recording. While the work is not the unbroken symphonic thread which Wagner would realize in supreme fashion in his later operas, the score is hauntingly beautiful in a somewhat sinister way. Dohnányi conveys the scary intensity of the music in an almost-unheard-of way.

Beginning with the overture, which too often is run through as a concert piece, the conductor applies a gloss and polish to the overture only rarely heard. Dohnányi handles the difficulties in balance and emphasis throughout this work with astonishing skill and understanding. The cast, too, is magnificent. Robert Hale's only fault is that he fails (like almost everyone else who attempts the role) to convey a touch of the sinister; here, the Dutchman is more travel-weary than angry. Senta is beautifully sung by Hildegard Behrens. Her scenes with the Dutchman are particularly moving. The minor roles, Daland, Erik and the Steersman, are well sung. The chorus also deserves a bow; this opera gives any chorus master [or mistress] headaches enough, but here, from the spinning chorus through the ghostly sailors' chorus, the result is one of consummate beauty and drama. Many opera-goers cannot buy into the legend of the Dutchman and his redemption by a woman he's only just met. But for those of us who can see the composer's intentions in this work, the emotional and musical payoffs of listening to a recording of this unmatched excellence are their own rewards.