Rebecca Nash (Senta) and Greer Grimsley (The Dutchman) star in Seattle Opera's production of 'The Flying Dutchman,' playing through May 21 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Photo by Philip Newton
Rebecca Nash (Senta) and Greer Grimsley (The Dutchman) star in Seattle Opera's production of 'The Flying Dutchman,' playing through May 21 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Photo by Philip Newton

Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman is far from my favorite opera. Given its repetitive and static libretto, the opera is a potential snooze-fest for a modern audience.

As if that weren’t enough, Seattle Opera’s current production of The Flying Dutchman presents the full 2-hour-and-15-minute opera sans any intermission. You read that right, there is nary a break, apart from the transition music Wagner composed for the scene changes.

When stage director Christopher Alden and his designers originally cooked up the production in 1996 at the Canadian Opera Company, they opted to present the opera as an uninterrupted one-act. They sought to intensify the drama in this story of the Dutchman, condemned by Satan to sail the seas until a woman’s true love sets him free, and Senta, a young woman who obsessively fantasizes about being the one to save him.

To minimize scenic changes, designer Allen Moyer’s box-like set, brought in from the Canadian Opera Company, was designed as a single unit. Switch out a little furniture, and the expressionistic set, canted at an angle, seamlessly reboots from a ship tossed about at sea to a room where women work at spinning wheels in the Norwegian village where Senta lives.

On opening night last Saturday, it felt surprisingly nowhere near 2 hours and 15 minutes of opera, so I’d say Alden and company were successful.

Alden found character-driven reasons and used the set inventively to keep his actors moving. Lighting designer Anne Militello’s atmospheric lighting kept pace, continually evolving.

My companion and I were riveted throughout, with only brief lapses when the staging became sluggish. A couple of jarring moments, like the sexually charged interactions of the men and women at the party, seemed out of sync with the rest of the production.

Striking in the production’s design is the homogeneity of Moyer’s costumes, from the shift-like dresses of Senta’s fellow workers to the rain gear of the crew on her father’s ship. Deciding to set the opera in the 1920s, an era in which conformity and closed societies collided with change and the foreign, plays up the friction created by Senta’s desire to leave her village and the arrival of the unfamiliar Dutchman.

Greer Grimsley as the Dutchman was mesmerizing, as his indomitable bass-baritone roared, bent and swayed with his anguish. Soprano Rebecca Nash as Senta was suitably consumed by the Dutchman legend and displayed a gorgeously robust voice, including some floating, unstrained high notes. Yet, strangely, my companion and I weren’t moved by Senta or by the denouement.

In his Seattle Opera debut, Nikolai Schukoff as Erik, the huntsman in love with Senta, was as much the star of the evening as Grimsley and Nash. With his warmly expressive tenor, Schukoff was heart-rending in Act 3 reminding Senta in vain about her previous vow to him of love and fidelity.

As a bluff Daland, Daniel Sumegi had some amusingly clueless moments trying to persuade his daughter, Senta, to marry the Dutchman. The duet of Sumegi’s rich bass with Grimsley’s sonorous bass-baritone in Scene 2 was pure pleasure to hear. Colin Ainsworth did fine work as a crazed Steersman, as did Luretta Bybee as Mary, Senta’s companion.

With conductor Sebastian Lang-Lessing at the helm, the orchestra captured both the valorous action and introspective otherworldliness of the opera. The Seattle Opera Chorus sang with gripping vitality, even while executing some vigorously choreographed bits.

Seattle Opera’s “The Flying Dutchman” plays at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, 321 Mercer St., through Saturday, May 21. Prices $25-$203. Tickets/information: 389-7676, www.seattleopera.org.

Freelance writer Maggie Larrick lives in the Seattle area.