By:  Hal de Becker


Photos: Richard Brusky


Sin City Opera’s first venture into Wagnerian opera was The Flying Dutchman at Charleston Heights Arts Center.


The Dutchman, an early work of Wagner’s, premiered in 1843 when the composer was only 29.  He was drawn to the legend after surviving a turbulent storm during a sea voyage.  He composed the music in six weeks, wrote the libretto and even included stage directions on the score so as to control all aspects of the performance.


SCO assembled more forces than usual for its production.  Included were six principal singers, a chorus of 17 and a 15 piece orchestra. 


The Dutchman tale is told in three Acts and concerns a sea captain cursed to sail forever, or until the love of an ideal woman releases him.  Act I was, perhaps, the most compelling with the suspenseful build up to the Dutchman’s first entrance;  dramatic singing; and more stage action than in some later sections.


Eugene Richards III portrayed the Dutchman without exaggerated angst or gesticulations.  He projected the character’s torment with resonant singing, ranging from seductive softness to resounding power, and focused intensity.  His monologue, Die Frist ist um, described his longing for peace even death, and was riveting. 


Senta, a young girl obsessed with the idea of the Dutchman, was portrayed by Rebecca Morris.  In the melodious Senta’s Ballad she passionately related her belief in their shared destiny.  And her dramatic ringing tone in a heated confrontation with her jealous admirer Erik was equally effective.


Senta’s father, Daland, in exchange for a share of the Dutchman’s treasure, gives him permission to marry her.  Travis Lewis’ nuanced portrayal was one of consummate artistry, enhanced by superb diction.  His tonality was strong, rich and effortless.  What an Iago he would make!


William McCullough, as Senta’s rejected suitor Erik, had a harsh edge to his voice but sang with stentorian power.  His performance, otherwise, was static and dramatically bland.


In the role of Steersman, youthful tenor Karsten Pudwill possessed a warm lyric quality with none of the stridence often heard in Heldentenor voices.  He didn’t force the tone and modulated smoothly between forte and pianissimo.  His diction was good, too.    


Senta’s nurse Frau Mary was performed by Kimberly Gratland James with professional aplomb and a distinctive timbre.  The chorus acquitted itself well under the direction of Susan Easter, and John Hammel’s narration of the story was a welcome innovation.


From the forceful overture to the apotheosis of Senta and the Dutchman at the end the music, even more than the singing, dominates this opera.    


With exceptional playing and good balance between instrumental groups, SCO’s orchestra had surprising impact and produced a fuller sound than might have been expected from a small ensemble. It was directed by Yunior Lopez.      


The orchestra was placed on the stage instead of in the pit but the scenery, though necessarily limited, adequately suggested a ship’s bridge and other areas.  Costumes were also minimal except for the ladies’ colorful gowns in Act II.  However, these limitations were negligible considering the outstanding level of the performance.  


Wagner’s operas are not always embraced as readily as those of Verdi, Puccini and other composers.  Long sections resembling spoken dialogue more than ‘song’ and inert singers can become tedious.  SCO’s production suffered some, but not much, of both. 


The performance I saw was well-attended and, with a few exceptions, most patrons seemed to be dedicated Wagnerites who stayed to the end.  


For SCO the Dutchman was an experiment, a noble experiment the results of which demonstrated that within the local coterie of opera enthusiasts there is an affinity for Wagner.