August 25, 2023

Director's Note: The Flying Dutchman

By Christopher Alden

It is always exciting for me to return to the pivotal piece of music theater which is Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. For — like Verdi with Luisa Miller and Mozart with Idomeneo — Der Fliegende Holländer is the opera in which Wagner first found his true voice and began to pilot his aesthetic craft beyond the operatic conventions of his day into hitherto uncharted waters.

Reality, fantasy, rationality, and the unconscious all swim side by side in the stormy sea of Wagner's music, dragging the audience into the depths of the human psyche. When the piece is performed without an intermission, as originally intended, Wagner ratchets up the tension level tighter and tighter, until (spoiler alert!) Senta's death feels like the only possible escape from the obsessive morass of this dark tale. The Dutchman in our production is a stand-in for The Wandering Jew of myth, restlessly traveling through time and space, searching for a safe harbor.

And our Senta is a rebel against her closed community, identifying with the plight of the outcast and fixated on a piece of Entartete Kunst — degenerate art. The introduction of Holocaust imagery in this production was born from Allen Moyer's and my desire to confront head-on the unholy connection between Wagner's art and the spectres of Fascism and Antisemitism. Sadly, with the current global spread of nationalism and authoritarianism, it feels like these impulses continue to re-appear in our world with nearly the same relentless regularity as the docking of the Dutchman's ship every seven years.

Tamara Wilson as Senta reaches toward a painting of the Dutchman in Lyric's 2023/24 production of Wagner's The Flying Dutchman.

September 23 - October 7, 2023

The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman

Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Wagner's masterpiece The Flying Dutchman, a story of a young woman's obsession with a cursed wanderer who seeks a faithful companion. This production is led by Enrique Mazzola and features Tomasz Konieczny and Tamara Wilson in leading roles.

Header photo: A shadowy figure — Tomaz Konieczny as the Dutchman — stands to the right of a group of sailors aboard Daland's ship in Christopher Alden's arresting production. Credit: Andrew Cioffi

Production photo: Todd Rosenberg