Vancouver, April 30, 2023 – A few days before opening night of the world famous “The Flying Dutchman” production, I was contacted by Cynnamon Schreinert, Publicist – Media and Influencer Relations for Vancouver Opera to share news about this a German-language opera, with libretto and music by Richard Wagner, on my blog. In return, I was awarded two tickets in Row #20 to watch this production with my own eyes. For my guest, I invited my 21-year old daughter, who had only seen one short Opera in Grade 4, which she could barely remember. In order to help introduce the topic, I was also given the opportunity to talk to Brian Deedrick, the Director of this Vancouver production, to ask him a few questions and find out more about his dreams, visions and goals.
Buy tickets here: https://www.vancouveropera.ca/whats-on/flying-dutchman/
It was an amazing night. To introduce this play, I will share parts of the synopsis as written by Director Deedrick in the show programme: “The legend of the great ghost ship, the “Flying Dutchman”, and its accursed sea captain, forced to roam the seas until Judgement Day unless saved a women’s devotion, appears frequently in 19th Century literature. There is no question that the Dutchman is a wanderer, at odds with society and challenging all norms as he strives for acceptance. At the same time, it may be argued that the entirety of the story is played out fully in Senta’s mind, begging the question as to whether she or the Dutchman is the central character in the opera, and which of the two is the true outside.
Richard Wagner conducted the premiere at the Königliches Hoftheater Dresden in 1843. He had taken inspiration from a tale written by Heinrich Heine, German poet, writer and literary critic.
“The tale of the Flying Dutchman is no doubt familiar to you. It is the story of that doom-laden ship which can never gain the shelter of a port and which has roamed the seas since time immemorial … A timbered specter, that dreadful ship bears the name of its captain, a Dutchman who once swore by all the devils in hell that he would round some cape or other (the name of which escapes me) in spite of the most violent storm that was then raging, even if he had to keep on tacking until the Day of Judgment. The devil took him at his word, and he is forced to roam the seas until the Day of Judgment, unless he can be saved by a woman’s fidelity. Fool that he is, the devil does not believe in women’s fidelity, and so he allowed the doomed captain to go ashore once every seven years to marry and in that way seek his salvation.“
From an article: The Wild Hunter, the Wandering Jew, and the Flying
Dutchman: The Hunt In Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer by J. Drew Stephen
Brian Deedrick had done “The Flying Dutchman” twice before the one that he produced for Vancouver Opera, and so he turned to the original score from 1841 that was available for sale in Dussmann – das Kulturkaufhaus, a bookstore offering books, musik, musik sheets and movies in the center of Berlin last August. In between the walking tours that Director Deedrick offered to tourists in Berlin, he spent 6 months trying to come up with a new vision that would suit a Vancouver audience and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
Since it was my first Opera (besides Phantom of the Opera), I had nothing to compare it to, but apparently the background was very modern and not like other productions. My daughter loved it, especially the mesh curtain that gradually turned opaque, showcasing the very beginning scene with Senta sitting in a chair. She felt this character was very “bad-ass” and powerful, although the Marjorie Owens didn’t say (or sing) a single word, but just got up and walked across the stage with grace and power. A former member of the Sächsische Staatsoper in Dresden and a Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, soprano Marjorie Owens projected her voice so well that everyone one of the guests in the 2, 765 seats were filled with the glory of her song.
UBC Professor J. Patrick Raftery gave a pre-show talk called “Haunted by sea” at 6:30 pm in the Mezzanine, where he introduced us to the haunting world of The Flying Dutchman and provides unique insights into Wagner’s massive musical constructions that challenge both singer and orchestra.
Director Deedrick was born in Lacombe, a small city in central Alberta in between Calgary and Edmonton. Even though it was a small place, they still had a Gilbert and Sullivan Society, a Lacombe Research Centre (Brian called it an “experimental farm”) that attracted scientists from London, New York and other places in the world that established a flourishing arts scene that inspired him. When he was in Grade 3, he wrote, directed and starred in a production of Romeo and Juliet and when he was in high school he was involved in musicals. As a young man, Deedrick spoke English, German, Italian, a little French and some Swedish.
After graduation, Deedrick decided to persue fine arts and to get a teaching degree, but he soon decided to major in theatre at the University of Alberta and get a Masters Degree in directing. He wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but as he put it at some point the “phone began to ring” and soon he learned he was in demand in places around the world. Being able to produce shows, explore cities, this was something he decided to dedicate his time and energy to. Rather than pursue a relationship with someone and establish a family, he decided to spend his life immersed in the “totality of art” – visuals, music, storytelling. The quintessential nomad; a wanderer, just like the Flying Dutchman.
Since the Opera season covers fall, winter and spring, that left summer open for other pursuits and I was intrigued to learn that Brian Deedrick was a tour guide for the summer months in Germany’s capital city. “DER BESTE STADTFÜHRER ALLER ZEIT” (best tour guide of all times) is what one Facebook fan commented. Deedrick wanted to study at the Goethe Insitute in Berlin in 1992, and he inquired about families he could stay with. They billeted him with a kind couple and he still stays with him when he spends time in Berlin to this day. The husband is an actor and the wife a teacher, and they keep a room available for him at anytime. This is in the district of Berlin called Kreuzberg, home to students, artists and a large Turkish population.
When staying in Vancouver, there are also some “beloved friends” on Commercial Drive, only a 20-minute walk to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. They are involved with the Theatre and Film Department at UBC, which is a perfect fit. His actual family still lives in Edmonton, where for years, he was the “Acting Teacher” of the Opera Nuova. Deedrick also plans a trip to Korea, Japan and Taiwan this year to “fill up, replenish and learn something new.” Travelling around the world for over 100 productions is more evidence of a nomadic, temporary lifestyle that seems to suit him, down to a T.
Another thing is that Deedrick learned during the pandemic is that it “fits well” with his introverted personality He read 186 books, and got hooked on Bollywood TV Shows. He was attempting to set up the production of Carmen back in early 2020, but as one thing after another shut down, it was soon evident that the show could not go on. The final rehearsal was of one of the magnificant “fight scenes”, where they all attacked each other and then went out for the last supper afterwards. The great news is that Carmen, as begun during the pandemic is now going to be shown in the Spring of 2024, providing all goes well.
Director Deedrick and I met in the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre during the intermission, where I was able to introduce him to Beatrice Schreiber, President of the German Canadian Business Association and we had a great talk.
When I asked Director Deedrick what his message to the audience would be, he stated “We all know that Wagner was a nasty, arrogant guy, who still managed to produce the most glorious music ever written. We need to look beyond his faults and failures as his music must be, needs to be and should be experienced. It is a story so beautiful, so intimate, a love story that can bring people to tears with a great composer and great storytelling.” He went on to say that if people are still talking about the Opera in an hour or two, or even days later, then he feels that he has been a success.
So for my final statement, I was very surprised how quickly time passed while watching this Opera. It started at 7:30 pm and when they told us it was going to last 3 hours, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it. But the time flew, as both my daughter and I were involved in the story. It was surprising to hear some of her feedback, as the whole night while talking to the people we met, they were pointing out that Opera is not appreciated by the younger crowd like it once used to be. There is just too much competition. But at the same time, the world has evolved and some of the concepts in the show were no longer acceptable.
Professor J. Rafferty did give us a “trigger warning”, but while the Opera was magnificent in its production quality, had absolutely amazing sound quality with the live orchestra music filling the room down to your soul, the storyline was disturbing in the “me too” era. Poor Senta. She had to listen to all the men in her life who all wanted something from her. Her father wanted to marry her off to a rich man. Her lover was poor and didn’t care about her feelings and the position that she was in. Her “Flying Dutchman” that she was obsessed with insisted she be faithful unto her death even though he knew it was going to kill her. My daughter was particularly disturbed when the Dutchmen mentioned all the other women he had ruined over the years – hundreds?, thousands? – who had not been able to keep their promise of being faithful.
The Metropolitan Opera states “Dramatic plot points that can seem questionable or discomfiting—or even downright offensive—to modern audiences show up all the time in works of art, and opera is no exception. Rather than shying away from discussions of gender roles in potentially off-putting stories like that of Der Fliegende Holländer, teachers should provide students with opportunities to engage with the uneasiness that these tales provoke and think critically about troubling or gray areas of representation.”
I think this would help keep the generations of today more involved in the stories of yesteryear. Altogether it was a fantastic event! I am looking forward to the production of Carmen, and hope to go again. Learn more here: https://www.vancouveropera.ca/whats-on/2023-2024-season/ or get your tickets here: https://www.vancouveropera.ca/whats-on/flying-dutchman/
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