Senta's Soaring Moment

Alan Held and Lori Phillips in Washington National Opera's
Alan Held and Lori Phillips in Washington National Opera's "The Flying Dutchman." (By Karin Cooper)
  Enlarge Photo    
Friday, April 4, 2008

In Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman," there is an Act 2 aria that crystallizes all of the opera's themes and sounds. A young Senta sings of the Dutchman's travails, damned to roam the seas. The text lays out the wanderer's basic plight; the music conjures moods of storm and tenderness; and the vocal inflections can reveal the composer's central concern, the basic power of redemptive love. Wednesday evening at the Kennedy Center, American soprano Lori Phillips took the part of Senta in the Washington National Opera's ongoing "Dutchman" production, and sang the aria superbly, contributing to a strong evening for the cast and musicians.

Phillips made "Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff" ("Have You Seen the Ship") a heartfelt display. The vocal line leapt and contracted, now immersed in broad orchestral washes, now hushed and forlorn. Phillips -- recently earning more parts on elite stages -- skillfully applied color and detail; through a purposeful fragility, she unmasks Senta's devotion that eventually culminates in a mandatory Wagnerian love-death. If her sound took on some hardness, it pointed to a well-powered and accurate instrument.

The Stephen Lawless production sometimes prevented this Senta from connecting with her Dutchman, together coming off like, well, two ships passing in the night. Alan Held brought more power than nuance to his Dutchman, while Gidon Saks, Ian Storey and Andreas Conrad made fine contributions in their roles. The Washington National Opera Chorus -- divided along gender lines in two winning numbers -- infused respective sweetness and brutishness. Heinz Fricke conducted sensitively in an expansive yet bright reading of the score.

"The Flying Dutchman" runs through April 10. Call 202-295-2400 or visit http://www.dc-opera.org.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

© 2008 The Washington Post Company