O.S.J.  Reached the Pinnacle in Operas’ production

Baritone NOEL BOULEY as “The pale man”
Baritone NOEL BOULEY as “The pale man”

By Iride Aparicio

Photos by: Pat Kirk

SAN JOSÉ, CA – When a Wagnerian opera is played by the orchestra at the “correct” tempo, with each one of its instruments creating the exact sound effect required for the performance, yet produced at a volume which allows the audience to hear clearly the singers’ voices, we define the production as  “good.”  

When in the same opera, the male and female choruses sound marvelous and each one of  the lead singers possess a strong, colorful tone of voice, vocalizes well the German language (the opera is sung in German with English Subtitles) and acts his or her role convincigly, we define the production as “great”.

And when, in addition to all the above mentioned qualities, this opera shows the audience on the stage a raging sea storm with clashing waves, flashes of lighting in the sky, and rocking on the water, their sails flapping on the wind, two ships struggling to stay afloat, (STEVEN C. KEMP Set Designer IAN WALLACE, Projection Designer & DAVID LEE CUTHBERT Light Designer) we must change our previous definitions of the work. This never-before seen production of an opera affected the audience in a stronger way, nd the audience showed it, after the final chords of the orchestra (Conducted by JOSEPH MARCHESO) were heard. by raising to their feet clapping enthusiastically, and shouting “Bravo.”  The Opening Night production of OPERA SAN JOSE’s THE FLYING DUTCHMAN directed by Stage Director BRAD DALTON could only be defined as  formidable,


In his Biography of RICHARD WAGNER. French writer ALBERT LAVIGNAC tells us that in l839 when WAGNER who was in Riga, Russia, embarked to London, by boat, the ship encountered a storm and needed to sought refuge  in the fjords of Norway ans that it was there, from the noregian sailors, that WAGNER first heard the legend that would inspire THE FLYING DUTCHMAN.

While the Opera’s name  DER FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER as Wagner   called it in German, has been translated as “THE FLYING DUTCHMAN” because Fliegende can be translated as “flying” the word “Fliegende”has other meanings in the German language. It also means Roving and it also means Wanderer. If we think about it, both meanings describe the Dutchman Ghost perfectly. However, because in his whitings, WAGNER never explained the reason why he called his opera THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, we need to assume, as many people do, that the name refers to the Captain as well as the name of his Ghost ship.


The story of THE FLYING DUTCHMAN takes Place in Norway. It opens on a stormy night at sea during which Captain Daland’s sail boat, was diverted to Snadwike in the Southern part, where upon landing, he encounters the  Ghost of “The Flying Dutchman” (NOEL BOULEY). the man.

He introduces himself to Daland as another sail ship, captain, who was diverted to this land. A few minutes later, however, after showing Daland the “treasure” he carries in a trunk, he starts telling him his story: As a sailor, he was so proud of his  expertise that he boasted that he could sail his ship around a Cape, during a storm, even if it would take him the rest of his life. As a curse, Satan sentenced him to roam the sea forever in his ship. But an angel in heaven brought him the terms of his redemption by allowing the waves to cast him upon the shore for two days every seven years. If, during those days he could find a woman who accepted to marry him and be faithful to him until death, the Dutchman would be released from Satan’s curse.

Impressed by the ghost’s treasure, Daland offers him the hand of  Senta, his  daughter. The young girl is familiar with the Dutchman’s story and moved by pity, she accepts to marry him. But when the Dutchman discovers Erik, he accuses Senta of braking her promise. Again, moved by a mixture of pity and “love” Senta does something drastic, to redeem him from his curse.   

KERRIANN OTAÑO as Senta with the Dutchman’s picture
KERRIANN OTAÑO as Senta with the Dutchman’s picture

For those interested in learning something more about the Operas of WAGNER, it will be helpful to learn that in WAGNER’s operas his characters’ motivations are expressed melodically. It is with the music, that WAGNER reveal his characters’ thoughts. Because of it, the music may, at times, contradict the lyrics (words) of his characters, but NEVER contradicts the characters’ actions.

The poverty of the English language make us relate the word melody with the Italian “Cantilena” a type of song used in operas which is based on the regular rhythmical return of the musical phrases, the se;ected musical key and its closing (at the end of the song)with a perfect cadence.

NICOLE BIRKLAD as Mary center, with The Dutchman’s picture behind her
NICOLE BIRKLAD as Mary center, with The Dutchman’s picture behind her

Wagner was familiar with the form, and he used in the song that Mary sings to the weavers in THE FLYING DUTCHAM


One problem with WAGNERIAN music, is that we cannot explain WAGNER’s musical construction using the word Melody to describe it. We must remember that the word melody comes from the Greek word Melos, which signifies: number, rhythm, verse, which are all the things lacking in most of  the "melodies" of WAGNER.

When we listen to the music of WAGNER’s  Operas,we discover that there are no arias and that most of the Wagnerian melodies are not subject by laws or symmetrical construction. They don’t move within the limits of tonality. They do not end in cadences, they are free, We could say, to describe it, that in  his melodies WAGNER transposed the symphony to the stage and that he used precise words (lyrics)  to create the action, leaving the singers the liberty to convey to the audience their motivation by the way they vocalized their sounds. Only by knowing this we will be able to understand the reason why WAGNER’s melodies are uninterrupted and seem to go on indefinitely.

And we cannot end our analysis of WAGNER’s music without mentioning “the Leit Motif which he did not invent, but that he mastered at the end.  The Leit Motif may be described as a musical sound which identifies a character. In the FLYIN DUTCHMAN transposed to the key of C Major, may be described as c-gg, c-gg  c (octave). This sound is played in the Horns. We first hear it in the opera's overture, and we continue hearing it each time the figure of the Dutchman or his ship appears on the stage. We also heard it Sung by Senta, when at home, she is thinking about the Dutchman, and he walks in besides her father.


Playing a role in any WAGNER role is very difficult for the singers. WAGNER called his Operas “Musical Dramas,” for a reason. The singers don’t sing the lyrics in his Librettos, they must “interpret the words. Because of it,  Wagnerian opera requires from its singers: perfect pronunciation of the German words, as singers, and to be able to  “interpret” their meaning. as actors.

In addition. To be able to sing a Wagnerian opera  requires a very strong voice, to let it be “heard” over WAGNER's rich orchestration. By strong, we mean a tone produced naturally, without “forcing” it and  without screaming, with every  German, word, pronounced well and  “interpreted.” It is history how many singers in the past ruined their instrument (voice) trying to sing WAGNER.

To sing the roles of the   “principal” characters in THE FLYING DUTCHMAN is very difficult for the singers. One of the reasons is because  each character is  motivated, so the singer not only should sing the aria, but  show his or her motivation when singing it. Some “motivations” are simple.  For instance, all the Steerman (MASON GATES) of  Daland’s ship wants is to get to Norway and ask his girl to marry him. Captain DALAN, Senta’s father (GUSTAV ANDREASSEN) motivation, however, is a little more complex. He is motivated by greed and sees in The Dutchman, a rich son in law. Erik (DEREK TAYLOR) the hunter, wants to marry Senta.  He truly loves the girl, but knows that he is not rich enough to satisfy her father’s greed. 

KERRIANN OTAÑO as Senta &NOEL BOULEY as The Dutchman
KERRIANN OTAÑO as Senta &NOEL BOULEY as The Dutchman

The character of Senta (OTAÑO)  is complex. She actually is in love with a Ghost, and being young, fascinated with the idea of being the woman who rescues a “cursed man” from his curse. At first, her motivation is “pity,” for a man that she had only seen  in a picture, and whose story she learned from Mary (BIRKLAND) her weavers’ teacher. Sadly, “this poor man.” as he calls him, became an obsession for her. At the end, she may have “confused” her obsession for love after meeting him in person. She becomes sure that he loves this man so much that is willing to sacrifice herself to redeem him.

But the most complex person in this opera is “the Dutchman” himself, because he is immortal. He actually is a Ghost. He is the Captain of a ghost ship, a cloud with red vesels that just appears floating over the ocean. All the sailors in his ship crew are dead persons. As a man, The Dutchman’s is selfish. As most of his lyrics indicate, all he wants is his own redemption and  sees  Senta, as “the Angel” who will bring bring it to him.. But in this version of the opera he changes. and the marvelous ending that Opera San Jose gives its production, makes Senta’s sacrifice worthwhile. With this formidable presentation of THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, Opera San Jose reached its peak in operas' productions.

THE FLYING DUTCHMAN will play at the California Theatre until February 25. To order tickets call the box office at 404-437-4450 or order them online at https://www.operasj.org/