Opera review: ‘The Flying Dutchman’ soars in Maine-based reimagining

Mark Delavan as The Dutchman and Felicia Moore as Senta in Opera Maine’s “The Flying Dutchman”. Photo by Martha Mickles

Opera Maine elegantly landed another classic story filled with dramatic thrills and plenty of musical thrills at Merrill Auditorium.

The opera’s major annual production offers an original version of Richard Wagner’s early works, ‘The Flying Dutchman’. The story of a cursed wanderer from the sea was brought to the coast of Maine in 1820 by director Dona D. Vaughn and a talented staff after extensive research with local museums and historical societies. There, among other legendary ghosts in the fog, one could easily imagine a cursed sailor continuing his eternal search for the redemption of true love.

Seaside imagery, leaping waves, period costumes and studied decor, along with a reference to Winterport, localized the opera into the German language (English surtitles provided), adding a dose of conviviality to a work from 1843 which has undergone many adaptations over the years.

But, of course, it’s ultimately about the abundant instrumental music and expressive singing, and to those ends Opera Maine has assembled a top-notch cast and orchestra to project the Wagnerian sense of black romance into the confines of a well-populated city. Merrill on opening night.

A leather-clad Mark Delavan was the spectral main character. More desperate than menacing, Delavan seemed to step out of his bass-baritone vocal range at times in his portrayal of tightly wounded emotional despair. His work opposite bass Richard Bernstein, as Captain Daland, created a kind of macho rumble on stage.

Delavan’s duets with the Senta in love with Felicia Moore, Daland’s daughter who finds the wanderer’s grief particularly compelling, struck a more delicate balance between revealing oddly well-matched strong personalities.

Moore’s rendition of Senta’s famous romantic ballad was the highlight of the evening with its exquisite melody enhanced by the evocative swells of the excellent orchestra conducted by Israel Gursky. The public was finally freed, however briefly, from the Dutchman’s indelible offshore leitmotif.

Cameron Schutza (as Senta’s spurned suitor), Jonathan Boyd (as tipsy Steersman) and Sahoko Sato Timpone (as Senta’s restless sidekick), rounded out the main cast, adding their vocal talents to the melodrama touches that sometimes drew laughter from the crowd.

Whether buffeted by a dizzying storm, busy spinning wheels or in party mode, dozens of male and female choristers, under the direction of Nicolás Alberto Dosman, have greatly enriched the production with the authority of the auditorium long associated with Wagner.

A backdrop of angled wooden panels served to give dimension to the video and still projections (designers: Germán Cárdenas Alaminos, sets; Alex Basco Koch, projections; and James E. Lawlor III, lighting) while minimal sets stage level brought the coastal flavor of the production house with period costumes (Millie Hiibel) and hair and makeup (Karine Ivey).

Opera lovers will likely be encouraged by this production to keep scanning the distant horizon for more about Opera Maine.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer living in Portland.

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