Miami Music Festival fills a Wagner void with vivid “Flying Dutchman”

By Lawrence Budmen

x alcic (right) in the title role of Wagnber's "The Flying Dutchman" Friday night at teh Arsht Center, prensetd by the Miami Music Festival. Photo: yyy

Roman lalcic (right) in the title role of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” with Samuel Weiser as Daland, presented Friday night at the Arsht Center by the Miami Music Festival. Photo: Mitchell Zachs

The Miami Music Festival’s Wagner Institute is filling a significant void in South Florida’s operatic life by presenting excerpts and entire acts from the works of Richard Wagner for the past three summers. Young professionals and students have received training and coaching in the music of this greatest of German opera composers.

On Friday night the festival presented its most ambitious offering yet—a virtually complete, semi-staged production of The Flying Dutchman at the Arsht Center’s opera house.

With the 100-member student orchestra onstage, director David Toulson devised an inventive production that captured the desperation of the sea captain condemned to sail the oceans forever and his quest to find a faithful woman who will bring him salvation. Yuki Mihara’s projections were effective throughout–conjured up the turbulent storms at sea during the Overture, painting the Dutchman’s ghostly ship in eerie red, and in the final apotheosis as the protagonist and his beloved Senta ascend heavenward amid a starry sky. Patricia Hibbert’s nicely varied costumes matched each character’s social station in striking fashion.

The orchestra’s placement toward the rear of the stage resulted in some less-than-clear instrumental details; after a somewhat tentative Overture, the ensemble adjusted to the acoustic and produced a large and impressive corporate sonority. Winds and the all-important horns were solid and the strings’ warm, clear tone was consistently strong. Conductor Michael Rossi kept sure momentum and highlighted Wagner’s graceful writing for winds and harp. The sounding of the Dutchman’s theme at his initial appearance had real impact.

This was not a stilted concert performance. The singers enacted the drama with vivid intensity and, despite the fact that they were in front of the orchestra, vocal and instrumental forces were well coordinated.

In a strong cast, two potentially major artists stood out in the principal roles.

Moldavian bass-baritone Roman Ialcic was a commanding presence as the Dutchman. Tall and imposing in a long grey coat, Ialcic sang the monologue “Die Frist ist um” in rounded, molten tones. At times on his knees, he radiated the protagonist’s despair at his cursed existence with mesmerizing intensity. When singing softly, there was warmth, richness and depth in his superbly controlled voice.

As Senta, Elizabeth Baldwin confirmed the strong impression she made in the MMF 2017 performance of Act I from Wagner’s Die Walküre. Baldwin can spin a velvety, melting pianissimo to magical effect and there is steel in her upper register, yet she never strains or scoops up to top notes. Her gorgeous timbre and dramatic projection in Senta’s Ballad suggested the heroine’s almost fanatical bond with the beleaguered sea captain. Initially standing on opposite sides of the stage, Baldwin and Ialcic’s voices were wonderfully matched and radiant in their duet at first meeting. Senta’s vow of fidelity was assayed with sweetness and intensity of expression. Baldwin is a singing actress with major league potential.

Samuel Weiser aptly suggested the ambitious ruffian as Daland, Senta’s sea captain father. His deep bass contrasted well with Ialcic’s lighter sound in their robustly vocalized duet. Weiser displayed genuine tenderness toward his daughter as well as ambition and greed at the sight of the gold and riches offered by the Dutchman for Senta’s hand.

Appropriately rustic looking as Erik, Jan Janacek projected an ardent lyric tenor with strength at high and low extremes. He brought passionate fervor to the huntsman’s futile declarations of love for Senta and his premonition of her death.

Patrick Cook’s lighter tenor had the requisite power at the top for the Steersman of Daland’s ship. Anne Maguire was stern as Senta’s nurse Mary with a firm and pliant mezzo. The deft interplay between Baldwin and Maguire over the painting of the Dutchman provided some contrasting humor amid the drama.

The chorus of sailors and women under Steven Gathman’s direction sang with heft and clarity. (The opening choruses of Act III were omitted.) Veteran Wagnerian singers Linda Watson and Alan Held and vocal coach Thomas Bagwell prepared the cast and their work yielded consistently admirable results.

The large audience awarded the principals and orchestra prolonged, cheering ovations, proving there is indeed an eager public for Wagner in Miami. Hopefully the Miami Music Festival will continue to produce more of these pivotal scores of the operatic repertoire.

The Miami Music Festival presents Lully’s Armide  1 p.m. July 27 and 6 p.m. July 28 at the Miami Beach Women’s Club, 2401 Pine Tree Drive in Miami Beach.

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Sat Jul 20, 2019
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