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Hawaii Opera Theatre’s 'The Flying Dutchman' is a soaring, stunning production

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The story of "The Flying Dutchman"may be known to most people as a plot device in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, but it’s also a famous opera composed by Richard Wagner, itself based on an old 17th century folktale.

The story goes, a Dutch captain attempted to sail around the Cape of Good Hope through a storm, boasting that Hell could not stop him. For his arrogance, Satan condemned the man and his crew to sail forever until the captain could find a woman faithful to him until death. The catch – he only has one day on land every seven years to find this woman.

This production from Hawaii Opera Theatre (HOT) was originally created by Francesca Zambello for the Glimmerglass Festival in New York, with sets by James Noone and costumes by Erik Teague. Senta, played by Melody Moore, is a young woman obsessed with the Dutchman, so when her father brings home a mysterious sailor, it appears that all her dreams have come true. But is there truly a "happily ever after" for her?

In the program, original director Zambello drew comparisons with this play and the contemporary "Twilight" series, both featuring naïve young women and the older, world-weary men that they become enamored with. On the surface, both are romances – but dig deeper, and the cracks in the love story begin to show.

As Senta, Moore has an impressive stage presence, her soprano drawing the audience in with each note. Moore is by turns hopeful, passionate and dangerously obsessed, a protagonist who isn’t relatable, but sympathetic. Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny is an imposing Dutchman, bare-chested and broad-shouldered. He and Moore have a beautiful duet together in the second act, but I found his opening aria somewhat hard to hear, as the full orchestra often drowned him out.

The rest of the cast was equally as good, with Paul Whelan finding the small humor in his part as Senta’s father, while tenor Nathan Munson as the Steersman nearly stole the scenes that he was in with his impressive voice. The HOT chorus provided a balance to the leads and blended well together, and I enjoyed the dance sequences, which added life and movement to the story. The full orchestra was pulled off Wagner’s score with deftness and talent, although as stated before it had a tendency to drown out a few parts.

The set was minimalistic, focusing on the lines and rigging of a ship that metamorphose into weaving when the women are on stage. Imaginative and visually stunning, it meant that the cast were often singing while climbing – a very difficult thing to do, I imagine. I particularly liked the first introduction of the Dutchman’s crew, when ragged sailors hang from the rigging as a hellish red glow shines up from the depths.

I initially came into “The Flying Dutchman” expecting it to be a romance, where the love of a pure young woman saves a man from certain damnation. The opera is that on the surface, but this production adds to that tired narrative, asking if perhaps Senta has made the right choice in following her sailor into death. The opera doesn’t end on a happy note – instead, this haunting production will make you think.