Taijiro Iimori is the conductor of choice for Wagner’s operas not only in the New National Theatre, but in many other Wagnerian ventures in Tokyo. His is a musical mind of admirable of structural awareness and capable of leading his musicians through the path of clarity and coherence. But this is no guarantee that this anatomically correct and physiologically functional body of a performance has indeed a soul. I reckon that, should Mr. Iimori could count with the playing of an orchestra such as the Vienna Philharmonic or the Staatskapelle Dresden, the orchestra would confide its spirit to his capable guidance and a performance of Klemperer-ian depth might come out. However, as long either the Tokyo Philharmonic or the Tokyo Symphonic are on duty, the result would be rather described as slow and dull. The brass section played valiantly, but the strings were life- and pointless throughout. If we had an island of animation in the appearance of the ghost crew, it is rather the result of the commendably clear singing of the house chorus – even if the unnecessary “sea wind” recorded noises managed to cloud some of it. (How about listening to Wagner’s music? It’s already there!)
Previous incarnations of this production in the New National Theatre featured Anja Kampe and Evgeny Nikitin in the leading roles. I can imagine that singers like that would have added some color to this evening’s performance. As we heard it today, over the greyish orchestral background (maybe an attempt to help the cast?), it all sounded like variation of matte. Thomas Johannes Mayer has always been more about force than volume and, with the help of his intense stage persona, he might be a particularly vehement Holländer. In a good day. But not today: although the voice sounded particularly dark, it also sounded almost devoid of Strahlkraft, i.e., he had to sing at 100% to pierce through. At some point, he grew tired, but one would not notice the difference. It is sad that I’ve had a ticket for today – I was eager to see him in this role… Rafal Siwek’s Daland did not feature much color either, but his is a naturally big voice, if a bit young-sounding for the role. Daniel Kirch’s tenor’s too was almost devoid of brightness and the sound was muscled and not very ingratiating. And Erik is a role one tends to overlook if the singer does not draw the audience towards him. The fact that Tetsuya Mochizuki, who sang Siegmund in Yokohama not long ago, was struggling with the Steuermann and squeezing his notes as if his life depended on it, makes me believe that the flu must have plagued that cast. It certainly had its victims in the audience. Although Ricarda Merbeth’s Senta was basically edgy and strident, I have to confess that the fact that someone was producing _a_ bright sound on stage – even if quavery and often foggy – was something of a relief.
Matthias von Stegmann’s production is at once simple and hard to describe. It is basically a series of anachronistic and aestheticized scenes with the level of Personenregie that could be described as “Senta, whirl or raise your arms – pick one”, “Holländer, collapse to the ground or raise your arms – pick one”, “chorus – cute choreographies or raise your arms – pick one”. In the very final scene, there is an interesting twist, but then it is too late, isn’t it?