Vancouver Opera sails away in The Flying Dutchman Gregory Dahl in the title role of The Flying Dutchman, Vancouver Opera, 2023. Photo: Tim Matheson.

Vancouver Opera sails away in The Flying Dutchman

Melissa Ratcliff

Vancouver Opera is bringing Wagner back in a big way! Having not been seen on VO stages in over 20 years, this marks the first Wagnerian production the company has mounted since 2001.

This production featured many modern touches, including an asymmetric set designed by Craig Alfredson that serves as both ship’s deck, tavern, and many other spaces, with a huge ship’s wheel that spins as the story goes along. In addition, there are extensive use of projections on multiple screens, designed by Wladimiro A. Woyno Rodriguez, which mixed both cartoon-like animation and highly realistic video to underline the action of the story.

The Vancouver Opera Men's Chorus in Vancouver Opera's 2023 production of The Flying Dutchman. Photo: Tim Matheson.

The title role of the tortured sailor, was played by baritone Gregory Dahl, who appears bare-chested and covered in tattoos to plead the case for a wife. Dahl’s portrayal is filled to the brim with tension and menace. He never truly believes that he will be free from his curse, and his torment is relentless, which helps carry the tension of the entire show. Vocally, Dahl for formidable and dark, bringing a vocal power that lent authority to his character’s plight.

As the eternally faithful Senta is soprano Marjorie Owens. In this production, she spends the entire overture sitting motionless center stage, before disappearing offstage until she’s aware of the Dutchman’s arrival. Owens brought sensitivity to this ill-fated character, and her desire to break the curse felt genuine and heart-felt. Vocally, when she finally opens up in her duet with Dahl, her voice was brilliant and breathtaking, a great Wagnerian presence that was filled with passion.

Marjorie Owens as Senta in Vancouver Opera's 2023 production of The Flying Dutchman. Photo: Tim Matheson.

Tenor Wookyung Kim as Erik was breathtaking - the hapless love interest who tries to save Senta from a fate of torment with the Dutchman, he was vocally stunning, and brought an intense physicality to the role that made his anger and fear so much more palpable.

Richard Wiegold as Daland, and Scott Rumble as the Steuermann were both unusual characters. Daland was portrayed as extremely greedy, almost eager to sell away his daughter for the gold and jewels on offer. Steuermann was, confusingly, portrayed as the whipping boy of the entire crew - tormented and bullied, and eventually brutally beaten to death by the entire crew while they sang cheerfully about him, while happily participating in his bloody murder, then carrying his corpse into the middle of the stage. Vocally, Wiegold’s dark bass was colourful and warm, and Rumble’s was light and agile. Unfortunately, as a lighter tenor in a Wagnerian opera, Rumble’s voice was often lost or unbalanced in the mix of large voices and orchestra.

Scott Rumble as the Steuermann in Vancouver Opera's 2023 production of The Flying Dutchman. Photo: Tim Matheson.

Unfortunately, this production was plagued by some technical difficulties, and some unusual directorial decisions. From the lights going off in the pit which stopped the entire show, to props breaking and speakers buzzing, it seemed this show was plagued by mishaps. In addition, some directorial choices didn’t seem to fit with the production - the Dutchman throwing off his clothes when Senta agrees to marry him, or him appearing suddenly in a spotlight when his name is mentioned, the aforementioned Steuermann murder, the men’s chorus rolling around on the ground over and over again for no discernable reason, and the final meeting with Senta and Dutchman feeling like a awkward romcom. All of these moments elicited raucous laughter from the audience throughout, which I’m sure was not the intention, and diminished from the drama of the story.

The VO Orchestra under the direction of Leslie Dala was formidable. While not having a full Wagnerian complement, Dala nonetheless brought forth a huge Wagnerian sound from the assembled orchestral forces. Full of bombast and sensitivity in equal measure, other than the unfortunate issue of the technical glitches, Dala navigated the difficult score with consummate skill that was musically brilliant.

Gregory Dahl in the title role of Vancouver Opera's 2023 production of The Flying Dutchman. Photo: Tim Matheson.

A final nod goes to the VO men’s chorus. Directorial decisions aside, the Steuermann chorus was phenomenal - a rousing, toe tapping rendition that was bombastic and a musical tour-de-force. Bravi tutti!

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