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Edo de Waart conducts Wagner’s thrilling opera.

This weekend the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and a small cast of talented singers brought passion, gentle comedy and plenty of fiery romance to their performance of Richard Wagner’s 1843 tempestuous opera Der fliegender Hollander (The Flying Dutchman), conducted by music director laureate Edo de Waart.

Frank Almond, known for his 1715 Stradivarius violin (and also for being the victim of a 2014 armed robbery, in which the violin was stolen and ultimately recovered) served as the show’s concertmaster chair.

German composer Wagner, known for his grand opera Der Ring des Nibelung (The Ring of the Nibelung), and his grand, sometimes bombastic scores, was famous for his use of leitmotif (leading motives) musical themes focusing on a person, object or idea.

The Flying Dutchman, part spooky myth and part romance, tells the story of a Dutch sailor (played by bass baritone Ryan McKinny, Das Rheingold, Don Giovanni) who, because of his former dealing with Satan, is doomed to stay at sea for eternity. However, an angel offers him redemption. Waves will bring the Dutchman ashore every seven years. If he can find a faithful wife, he will be free.

Photo credit Jonathan Kirn

The Dutchman’s vessel collides with the ship of the of the jovial, hospitable sailor Daland (played superbly by veteran baritone Peter Rose, Requiem, Missa Solemnis,), startling his first mate, Steurmann (Evan LeRoy Johnson, Salome). The kind-hearted Daland takes the Dutchman on board, who reveals to the ship’s captain his enormous riches, and asks if he has a daughter. Daland, elated at the prospect of newfound wealth, replies that he does — his daughter Senta (angelic-voiced soprano and Cincinnati Conservatory of Music graduate Melody Moore).

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Senta and the Dutchman fall instantly in love, much to the chagrin of her infatuated former suitor Erik (clear-voiced tenor AJ Glueckert) and confidant Mary (mezzo-soprano Nancy Maultsby, Pelleas et Melisande), who thinks Senta is being foolhardy.

Although the ending could be interpreted as tragic — Senta hurls herself into the sea to be with her beloved — the pair are joined in death and reunite in heaven.

Under Dutch conductor de Waart’s direction, the MSO performed Wagner’s score—a potent mix of strings, horns and woodwinds–with an intensity and warmth. A men’s choir and women’s choir added richness and depth to the production with their striking vocal performances.

Two large screens provided concert attendees with striking visuals — the anguished face of the Dutchman, storm-tossed seas, vivid reds and muted colors.

The opera, which the singers executed flawlessly, was sung entirely in German. However, the crowd was able to read English captions, printed on the right screen.

Rather than 19th century costumes, the singers wore modern formalwear that blended in with those of the MSO.

At two hours and 11 minutes, with an approximate half hour break for intermission, the opera was a bit lengthy, but very enjoyable.

The crowd seemed to agree — although the performance was not sold out, most seats were occupied. The MSO and opera singers were treated to several standing ovations.

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