Thursday, November 29, 2012

Impressions from Montreal: Opera

Le Vaisseau Fantôme (The Haunted Vessel) is better known to me as Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, one of my favourite operas, and last week Montreal Opera was presenting it in one of my favourite productions (from the Canadian Opera Company). I was already planning a weekend there, so figured the timing would be excellent, and it was.

Cursed to sail the seas unendingly, only able to come ashore once every seven years for one day in which he must find a woman to love him unto death in order to release him from his curse, the Dutchman's lot is a rough one. This tale of the ultimate outsider who can only be redeemed by the necessarily blind and unquestioning love of a woman is rife with neurotic possibility. The music is sublime, of course, and the ending always poignant.

This Christopher Alden production luckily works in massive barn-like theatres like the Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, as well as purpose-built opera houses. The slanted box-on-its-side, lined with rough wooden floors and chair pegs, has a Shaker feel to it and pushes the action and the sound out into the auditorium. The only set pieces within the set are a large wheel and a spiral wrought-iron staircase that comes up through the floor and disappears into the ceiling. The one set plays all parts and it works perfectly to portray an insular society, into which a mysterious sailor is likely not to be welcomed. The lighting by Anne Militello is creepy and glorious. One minute the stage is flooded with blood red, another with an acid yellow.

The Dutchman and his Senta are intensely sympathetic. Daland, Senta's greedy father, and the rest of her village, are suspicious and tribal in their attitudes to outsiders. When the villagers celebrate the return of their men, the rowdy Steuermann chorus is eerily disciplined in its barely contained rage. The villagers' costumes denote a 1930s Fascistic feel, with the Dutchman and his ghostly crew in what looks to be concentration-camp garb. The women are dressed in bilious green stoles, and all the characters bear raccoon-like eye makeup.

I wasn't blown away by the singing so the least said, the better. But I was here to witness again a thoughtful and potent production. And that's what I got.

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