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  • Angela Allyn

EPIC at the Lyric

The Lyric Opera of Chicago launched its ambitious 23-24 season in style with Richard Wagner’s 1843 The Flying Dutchman.

This is Big Music– the kind that you can feel through your skeleton! The sea captain Daland, the papa of our heroine is a bass, Mika Kares who Chicagoans got to enjoy in Don Giovanni. The Dutchman is a bass-baritone with serious acting chops, Tomasz Konieczny. And Senta, the self sacrificing woman upon whom the plot rests is Chicagoland’s homegrown Tamara Wilson, a dramatic soprano who can send chills up and down your spine.

Wagnerian sopranos are the stuff of legend, and this production is truly remarkable to hear what the human voice can do– like watching the vocal equivalent of Michael Jordan shooting hoops.

It’s a short opera: only two hours and twenty minutes, as it was originally created, and like many classical operas the plot can be problematic. So many sopranos must die because of the men they love, or the men who love them when they do not want to be loved. Self actualized people with healthy relationships do not make for good drama. If modern psychotherapy existed in the nineteenth century we might not have an entire art form. (Sidebar: Lyric Opera of Chicago noted just this point with their Dr. Opera video series:

In this “ghost” story, a sea captain has made a deal with the devil, and returns to port every seven years to try to find a woman who will be faithful to him until death, which will free him from his curse. Senta, who has fallen in love with a picture of the captain, offers herself as that woman, jilting the local boy Erik (played here with passion by Robert Watson). When you see the folks that inhabit her town: conforming, restricting and nightmarish in their gray and dayglow outfits, you see that jumping aboard a ship and sailing away with a dashing and fabulously wealthy sea captain does not seem like a bad bargain. And her Papa is totally in favor of the match. Senta is a pious and obedient soul. Erik, unable to let her go, finishes her off in a shocking scene of partner violence, and through the technicality that she hadn’t said I do yet and she was intending to be faithful, the Dutchmen gets his ascendance out of hell.

This production is highly visual, and expressionistic, almost like a series of highly meaningful paintings brought to life, or an art cinema work that lingers on shots so that the viewer can feel the significance. The off kilter box of a stage with tortured souls undergirding the action, the use of a Degenerate Art portrait of the captain underlining his outcast status, the giant wheel that menacingly turns: nobody in this show is ok. The director made the unusual choice of clothing the damned in garb reminiscent of concentration camps: in his statement he said he made the choice to bring attention to the “unholy connection between Wagners art and Facism and Antisemitism” He noted that those movements and “impulses continue to appear in our world with nearly the same relentless regularity as the docking of the Dutchman’s ship every 7 years.”

Opera is meant to be an artistic reckoning of our deepest human desires, joys and pains, and as such, the The Flying Dutchman is a kind of catharsis for our most unsettling time.

The Lyric is doing short runs: there are only 3 more shows left to see this gorgeously fulfilling production: October 1 and October 4 at 2pm and October 7 at 7:30pm– for tickets and more information go to

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