The hero of Richard Wagner's “The Flying Dutchman” is cursed to sail from port to port through centuries, until redeemed by the love of a woman. San Francisco Opera's new production of the work also is troubled. And at the premiere Tuesday night in the War Memorial Opera House, redemption was partial and insufficient.
There was a storybook debut in the making with the recent, late casting of world-renowned San Franciscan Lise Lindstrom, who never before sang with the company.
Her Senta was highly anticipated, and opera fans expected a homecoming triumph. Yet the dramatic soprano – who has performed the seminal role of Turandot more than 100 times in the U.S. and in Europe – appeared indisposed, although no announcement was made.
Lindstrom made a great, eventually successful, effort to overcome what sounded like a problem with her throat, and at the end of the opera, when she becomes the pivotal character, she finally sang full out.
Patrick Summers' direction of the hard-working orchestra hit weak spots between very loud passages and time passing without drive and sustained interest. Oboist Mingjia Liu had outstanding solos.
The show wasn’t without positive moments. After Act 1, a well-deserved curtain call went to chorus director Ian Robertson, who stood onstage with his singers. They sang up a storm in this stormy opera, particularly the men, who were together, powerful and projected wondrously.
Righteous applause also greeted bass-baritone Greer Grimsley, who sang the title role, and bass Kristinn Sigmundsson as Daland. Grimsley's voice is rich, his projection exemplary, and he acts the cursed, woebegone Dutchman with believable authority.
Sigmundsson, as usual, was powerful and reliable. The Act 1 duet between the two men – Daland instantly pledging Senta, his daughter, to the wealthy, generous stranger who impresses him – was a vocal highlight.
A.J. Glueckert as Steersman and Erin Johnson as Mary were fine; Ian Storey as Erik was less dazzling.
Petrika Ionesco, the original director and set designer of this co-production with Belgium's Opéra Royal de Wallonie, was relieved of the job by San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley just one week before the premiere, apparently due to confusion and miscommunication.
Assistant director Elkhanah Pulitzer took over, and did what she could, under the circumstances. Production designer S. Katy Tucker's work is so realistic, and seasick inducing, that patrons may want to have some Dramamine at hand.
The Flying Dutchman
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 26 and Nov. 15; 7:30 p.m. Oct. 31, Nov. 7 and Nov. 12; 2 p.m. Nov. 3
Tickets: $28 to $397, $10 standing room
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com