Washington National Opera’s production of Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman” is mid-run at the Kennedy Center Opera House. For the third performance, heard on Wednesday evening, the company gave its two leads a rest, with a one-night casting change featuring a local favorite and a rising young singer.
American bass-baritone Alan Held first sang the title role of this opera in 2008, the last time WNO mounted “Dutchman.” He sounded much more comfortable in the role this time around — especially at the top, where he roared with force — while the low notes were not as potent as those of Eric Owens, whom he replaced in this performance. Where Owens used a more vocally subtle approach to garner sympathy for the plight of the doomed Dutchman, Held was a more traditional snarling villain, with his tall frame hulking around the stage and some minor costume changes that made the character seem less ridiculous than in 2008.
The replacement for Christiane Libor’s knockout Senta, American soprano Jennifer Root, did not seem to be such a good match for the role, although she has sung it before. Root’s voice, heavy on the vibrato and dark of tone, especially at the top, did not shine in the way Libor’s did. In the Dutchman ballad, Root’s high G was not always clear and quite on pitch at the start of the melody. When the role went off the bottom of the staff, which was not really Libor’s strength, Root’s more mezzo-soprano timbre served the part better. By the time Root reached the climactic B-flats in the Act 3 trio and B-natural in her final line, her voice seemed to have no more room to soar.
Downey is a freelance writer.