"The Flying Dutchman" is the first of Wagner's many operas dealing with the redemption of a man through a woman's love, taken from the fable of the Dutch sea captain doomed to sail his ship eternally, with one visit to shore every seven years to seek his salvation.
As designed by Allen Moyer, directed by Christopher Alden, and performed without intermission (over two hours), the COC's "Dutchman" (sung in German with English subtitles) becomes a stark and chilling Gothic melodrama. It's set on a canted stage and framed as a huge rectangular box made of distressed planks, with a large industrial belt drive wheel implanted in the deck, initially representing a ship's wheel.
The space first serves as a ship's deck, with scudding projected clouds and a howling cross wind which billows the sails and sends the sailors reeling to keep their footing. Later it becomes the home of Captain Daland, who invites the Dutchman to meet his daughter after he has offered his cargo of jewels for a redemptive marriage. Ashore, the wheel becomes a power source for looms in Daland's house operated by 24 women whose ladder-back chairs become part of the fascinating mechanical choreography. Afloat or ashore, the tilted floor becomes symbolic of skewed, desperate lives. Costuming reinforces this with an overriding concentration camp look.
Daland's daughter Senta has been obsessed by the story of the Dutchman, eternally staring at his portrait even before he shows up as a guest. Soprano Frances Ginzer as Senta is made up to look something like an asexual Raggedy Ann doll. Her voice is a powerhouse, cold and dramatic, with stentorian projection.
Gidon Saks as the Dutchman provides a huge, full bodied yet eminently lyrical bass voice and a stage presence that is surprisingly sympathetic.
Daland is sung by Raymond Aceto, with a darker but more tightly focused bass voice. The full, rich, pealing sound of the chorus deserves special mention, while Richard Bradshaw's conducting kept orchestral and vocal tensions taut.
The COC's "Don Giovanni" (in Italian with English titles) is an ensemble production all the way. In the title role baritone Davide Damiani presented a stylish voice and a devilish but not exaggeratedly lustful demeanor. His sidekick Leporello was sung by Gilles Cachemaille with a solidly focused baritone and a mastery of understated comic gesture deftly employed by director James Conway.
Of the cast's three sopranos, Monica Colonna as Donna Anna and Alwyn Mellor as Donna Elvira reflected the dignity of their station, while the other object of the Don's amours, the peasant girl Zerlina, was sung by Isabel Bayrakdarian with fine agility and a very pure, smooth lyricism.
Design by Jorge Jara featured effective costumes which reflected no particular period and equally timeless, clean-lined sets made of movable modular units with tall columns, arches, walls and abstract shapes in warm earth tones. The orchestra under Nicholas Cleobury played with crispness and elegance.