Sunday at the Library

The second day of the Wagner Weekend started with a showing of a video of the 1985 Bayreuth production of “The Flying Dutchman”. The two main leads were Simon Estes as the Dutchman and Lisbeth Balslev, as Senta.
Presentation-wise, the production was quite traditional, with a 19th century setting and costumes and ships that “sailed” into view. Where it was more contemporary was in emphasising the role of Senta, who was present on stage from beginning to end, most of the time clutching a painting of the Dutchman. During the Overture and Act One, before she usually appears for the first time, Senta reflects the music of the overture and then responds, with her expression and body language, to what occurs down below her on stage. We are left wondering how much of what we witness is in her imagination and where imagination and reality meet.

The screening was followed by John Gee’s talk about women in Wagner’s operas. In summary, he pointed out that they are not the stereotypical helpless and beautiful characters in need of protection.  Almost all the major female roles in Wagner’s operas present women who have well rounded and sympathetic characters who are not portrayed as acting irrationally, on the basis of jealousy, for example. To name a few: Isolde is Tristan’s equal. Brunhilde is the central heroic character in “The Ring”. She argues and reasons, always having a logical motivation for her actions, including when they involve her in the plot against the man she loves.
John Gee

In The Flying Dutchman, the main female character, Senta, is a mortal woman. To see her as an object of pity would be unfair. She has been a dutiful daughter who could not escape her constricting environment. This situation will become clear to the audience during her ballad, which is the core piece of the opera. As an isolated individual in an environment that is stifling to her, Senta is wishing for a redemption of her own. She is empathetic to the Dutchman and his equal.

Wagner benefitted from association with strong women for much of his life. Cosima Liszt as Wagner’s second wife supported him a lot. Generally speaking, Wagner had a very high respect for women and was fortunate in the deep friendships he formed with some.

The afternoon concluded with an interview of Glen Goei by Dr. Ong Yong Lock, humorously billed as “On a Wagnerian’s Couch”.

I have to admit, we laughed a lot. In the interview, Glen revealed some secrets of the upcoming opera production in a very humorous way.

His first hint was that Senta will take control of her life. She will not be pitiful or a victim. As Glen sees some parallels between the Asian society structures of today and  the European structures of the 19th century – both very patriarchal societies – it was easy for him to relate the context of the opera to current times. His summary was: Senta as an only child, with no mother, has been raised and then betrothed by her dominant father.
She lives in golden cage, but she longs for her own individuality. She determines to takes her life into her hands.Glen revealed then, that in his production, the appearance of the Dutchman will be explained….. And why Senta is crazy about the Dutchman.
For Glen, a reference point is the Hungry Ghost month. The story will take place on the last day of the Hungry Ghost month.

We will enter the world of spirits and Senta’s mind. Production and costumes are Buddhist and Zen inspired. To end the interview, Glen revealed sketches of the costume of the Dutchman and the villagers.If you were not there, you really missed out on something great. Come to our next event, become a FRIEND OF THE FLYING DUTCHMAN and you will see more…..

YL SUon Jong Glen
(story and pictures by Isabel Markwitz)

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