Dallas Opera opens season with a visually charged, musically excellent “Dutchman”

Emmanuel Villaume
Texas Classical Review

Dallas Opera opened its 2018-19 season Friday night at Winspear Opera House with a stark production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman that gradually and subtly flowing from a dark opening toward a brilliantly charged, electrifying conclusion.

That the performance would be musically on target was evident in the opening bars, many minutes before the curtain rose. Conductor Emmanuel Villaume guided the orchestra through a detailed delineation of the rich counterpoint and layered textures of the extended overture. 

Villaume, who has frequently proved his sensitivity and insight in the Italian and French repertoire, immediately showed himself also at home with the grand gestures and lyricism of this German romantic score. Though the music is unmistakably Wagner, the style is still rooted in Beethoven and early romanticism, and the composer had not yet developed the full-blown chromaticism and leitmotif technique that would characterize his mature operas. Villaume showed a clear understanding of the momentum of this slow-to-unwind score as well as a sure insight into the language of Wagner’s poetry as part of  the musical texture. 

This musical excellence played out within the grimly evocative production from Toronto’s Canadian Opera,  with sets and costumes by Allen Moyer. Director Christopher Alden, who premiered this 2010 staging, is also helming these Dallas performances.
Just as conductor Villaume explored the subtle fine points of Wagner’s orchestral and vocal writing in terms of tempo and volume, director Alden visually manipulated the chorus and cast in ways that demonstrated deep sympathy with the same textural qualities in Wagner’s monumental score—as in the contrapuntal motion of the chorus in the opening scene. And, while evocative lighting is an essential element of any operatic production, Anne Militello’s lighting also picked up elements of the score in a unique and skillful manner—at times illuminating hidden elements, and at other points almost blinding the audience.  
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