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OPERATIC OCEANTICS

HIGH SEAS have had their share of high C’s. Here’s a sampling of operas with ocean motifs, along with related theatrics of one sort and another.

Daniel Auber’s Haydée, ou le Secret, 1847. Auber’s opera was based on a short story by Prosper Mérimée, who also inspired Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

Haydée is a Cypriot slave girl. She loves Lorédan Grimani, commander of the Venetian fleet. The secret (spoiler alert!) is that he once cheated Venetian Senator Donato at dice. And a better one is that she’s really a princess.

Haydée, ou le Secret, Act II, set design by Philippe Chaperon for the 1891 production, Théatre de l’Opera-Comique-Châtelet. Image from Opera Journeys, edited for an exhibition at the Bibliotheque-Musée de l’Opera de Paris, November 1993–February 1994.

Acts I and III of Haydée are land-bound, in a Moorish castle and Grimani’s Venice digs, respectively. Act II is aboard Lorédan’s Venetian flagship.

Lorédan recognizes Andréa (son of Senator Donato); the smarmy guy off to Lorédan’s left is the spy Malipieri.

It’s an opera comique: Andréa kills spy Malipieri in a duel; Lorédan and Andréa reconcile; Lorédan marries Haydée; and Andréa marries Lorédan’s ward Rafaela. Neat and tidy.

Richard Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer, 1843. Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman is rather more psychologically complex than Haydée. But then isn’t everything?

According to Wikipedia, the opera’s “central theme is redemption through love.” The opera also inspired the 1949 movie Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, which featured the Napier Railton.

Having once invoked Satan, a ship captain can bring his ghostly vessel ashore only every seven years. This time around, it’s the Norwegian coast. If he can find a wife, he’ll be released from roaming the sea for eternity.

Norwegian Daland offers his daughter Senta to the ghostly captain in return for a chest of treasures. Believe it or not, Senta has been wishing for just such a deal.

Those familiar with The Ring Cycle aren’t surprised.

The Flying Dutchman, Act 1, set by Colin McGirk originally designed for another play. Lighting designer Wen-Ling Liao describes modifications to fit The Flying Dutchman.

Erik, Senta’s previous beau, warns her of this ghostly stuff. But does she listen? No, she swears she’d be true to the Dutchman forever.

The last scene of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer. Image from Leipziger Ilustrierte Zeitung, January 3, 1843.

Everybody is spooked by the Dutchman and his crew, but things end happily, more or less, except maybe for Erik. The Dutchman sets sail, Senta throws herself into the sea, the ghostly ship disappears, and the pair are seen ascending to heaven.

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, Orson Welles’ play. Everybody knows Moby-Dick. It’s about Captain Ahab and this big white fish, right?

In typical fashion, in 1955 Orson Welles wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Moby Dick—Rehearsed, a two-act play. Its setting is a late-19th-century American repertory theater, its cast preparing a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Instead, the Actor Manager, portrayed by Welles, tells everyone they’re to rehearse his own version of Moby-Dick. At first, the actors are reluctant, but then they find themselves transformed into the Melville characters.

Orson Wells (Actor Manager/Captain Ahab) with Joan Plowright (Young Actress/Pip) in Moby Dick—Rehearsed, Duke of York’s Theatre, London, 1955. Image by AP.

Moby Dick—Rehearsed is performed with an empty stage, minimal props, and actors in contemporary street clothes. Brooms are oars; a stick is a telescope. Following Welles’ direction, everyone sways in unison with the imagined Pequod.

The full story of Moby Dick—Rehearsed, including the mystery of a film version, is offered at wellesnet.com

Georges Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles, 1863. Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers opera is not actually about the sea. But its Metropolitan Opera production of the 2015-2016 season had noteworthy aquatic theatrics.

The Pearl Fishers, Metropolitan Opera, 2015-2016. Penny Woolcock, director; Andy Dawson, choreographer; Dick Bird, scenery; Kevin Pollard, costumes; 59 Productions, projections.

The video of its aerialists’ rehearsal is stunning. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2019

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