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When one thinks of Sarasota Opera, Wagner isn’t the first composer to come to mind. The Italian repertory, notably the long-running Verdi series, is what the company is best known for, but Wagner not so much.
The company is presenting The Flying Dutchman this season, only the company’s second Wagner staging in its history (the first was also Dutchman in the same production in 2000). And while it’s good to see the Gulf Coast company branching out from its core Italian emphasis, Thursday night’s performance was not one of Sarasota Opera’s more impressive achievements.
Some compromises were necessary in the intimate venue, with a down-sized orchestra and staging yet most of the principal’s voices proved at least one size too small for their roles as well. That along with variable acting and drearily static stage direction amounted to a miniaturization of Wagner’s roiling, sea-tossed score.
David P. Gordon’s darkly atmospheric sets did what they could with the limited space available, the tiny ship’s prow eliciting “oohs” from the audience. More effective was the staging of the final apotheosis of the doomed lovers, aided by Ken Yunker’s evocative lighting. Tom Diamond’s plank-like stage direction centered on stand and deliver with the principals too often rooted like parking meters.
Kevin Short has been a reliable singer for the company for many years, but the role of the haunted Dutchman may have been going a bridge too far. His burly bass-baritone is rather straitened in color and size, and doesn’t expand into Wagner’s soaring climaxes as it should. Also Short failed to bring much dramatic range, much less romantic fervor, to the role, mostly glowering in generalized fashion.
Dara Hobbs has the notes and was clearly working hard, but this was not exactly a Senta for the ages. Her soprano possesses sufficient heft but also a hard tone and, like Short, an unvaried timbre. Her game but decidedly literal singing conveyed little of Senta’s mystery or otherworldly qualities. More crucially, there was zero sexual chemistry between her and Short in what is supposed to be a tale of unhinged eternal love.
Michael Robert Hendrick, a memorable Lennie in the company’s Of Mice and Men last season, was wholly miscast as Senta’s lover Erik. The veteran tenor brought impassioned fervor to his climactic scene with Senta, but his voice sounded undeniably raw and frayed around the edges.
With his hoary bass and rudimentary acting, Harold Wilson was a merely serviceable Daland. Jon Jurgens delivered the Steersman’s song with an attractive youthful tenor.
Conductor David Neely proved a reliable hand in Wagner, pacing the music well and delivering the surging climaxes with impact. Apart from a wobbly section horn, the Sarasota Opera Orchestra played solidly if without the polish and focus they can bring to their best nights. The chorus sang robustly under Roger. L. Bingaman’s direction.
The Flying Dutchman runs through March 23. sarasotaopera.org