Morris gives strength to 'Dutchman'

September 11, 1995|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Wagner's fans are almost as inebriated with a sense of his music's greatness as the sociopathic composer himself was. That is the reason -- the performance surely did not merit it -- for the stupendous applause following the Washington Concert Opera's "The Flying Dutchman" in Washington Friday evening at Lisner Auditorium.

The two chief reasons for attending the performance were the chance to hear baritone James Morris in the title role and Deborah Voight as Senta. Unfortunately, Voight -- the current white hope in the, so far, long and fruitless search for a dramatic soprano who can succeed Birgit Nilsson -- canceled and was replaced by the Canadian, Frances Ginzer. In the past few years, Ginzer has been trying to move up from such roles as Verdi's Violetta and Mozart's Donna Anna to somewhat heavier ones such as Strauss' Ariadne and Wagner's Senta.

To judge from Friday evening's performance -- Ginzer repeated the role yesterday -- she is only an acceptable Senta. Her voice -- at least in so relatively small a place as Lisner -- may be large enough. But it sounded strained and was incapable of the soft singing essential to Senta. Moreover, she gave a somewhat unmusical reading of the famous Act II "Ballad" that is the opera's turning point. She punched out each high G, destroying the shape of the line and missing the Ballad's rapture and ecstasy.

It was Morris who made the evening worthwhile. This Baltimore-born-and-bred baritone inhabits the Dutchman in much the same way that George London or Hans Hotter once did. That he has the necessary stature (vocal as well as physical) and tone goes almost without saying. But his ability to color a phrase, his superb articulation and almost seamless voice and his musico-dramatic intelligence make it possible for him to convey the Dutchman's intense anguish as few singers can.

Most of the rest of the cast was not able to stand up against such distinguished singing. Kurt Link's Daland was sung nicely enough, but his bluff and comic characterization did not work well against the subtle and intense one of Morris. Stephen O'Mara's Erik was too much the hapless milquetoast. Gregory Cross' steersman was beautifully sung and sensitively persuasive. Sandra Walker's Mary was unobjectionable.

The chorus of the Washington Concert Opera acquitted itself with distinction and general director Stephen Crout conducted his much-too-small orchestra well enough to convey a reasonable facsimile of how "The Flying Dutchman" should sound.

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