Le Vaisseau fantôme conquers the Grand Théâtre

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Photo: Peter Black

The large female chorus of Le Vaisseau fantôme simulate spinning yarn with ropes suspended from high above the stage of the Grand Théâtre.

It’s no mean feat to fill the vast stage area of the Grand Théâtre, but during scenes from the Festival d’Opéra de Québec’s magnificent production of German composer Richard Wagner’s Le Vaisseau fantôme (The Flying Dutchman) the space, while not exactly rendered intimate, was stunningly conquered.

It helped to have a nearly full-sized replica of a ship in sail gliding back and forth onstage, an elaborate, complex scene with the women of the chorus handling ropes suspended from the ceiling, multimedia images of storms and a giant eye.

The male and female Quebec Opera Company choruses, numbering about 30 each, filled the stage both physically and with their powerful, harmonic voices. Add to this the artists’ outstanding performances and, voilà, opera fans were treated to one of the most epic stagings ever attempted by the city’s opera company.

Never mind that the plot is a bit of a farce, based on the ancient legend of a cursed ship’s captain sailing a ghost ship around the world, landing every seven years in hopes of finding a faithful wife who will end his eternal damnation. The story, told with some truly soaring, emotional performances, is what it is, and audiences are not there to be held in awe by twists in the tale. We all know how it ends (tragically); it’s the musical journey that’s the big thrill.

And thrilling indeed are the performances by the leads: Gregory Dahl as the tormented captain of the ghost ship; Andreas Bauer Kanabas as the scheming father of Senta, the Dutchman’s would-be saviour, played with powerful aplomb by Johanni van Oostrum; and Éric Laporte as Senta’s aggrieved, if not overbearing, suitor Erik.

Interpreted with exquisite precision by the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec under the baton of Jacques Lacombe, the score was stirring and surprisingly lively in spots, for a Wagner work.

The creative direction is worthy of an extended ovation. Quebec native François Girard, a much-acclaimed veteran film and stage director, has fashioned a spectacular, gloomy set with rocky shoals, swirling storms and a giant eye that keeps its haunting gaze on Senta. (Girard took on the monumental opera challenge two days after finishing his much-anticipated new feature film, The Song of Names, which is about to premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.)

Le Vaisseau fantôme sets sail for the Metropolitan Opera in New York City in March. The final two of four performances in Quebec City are on Aug. 1 and 3.

For more information on the Festival d’Opéra de Québec, visit festivaloperaquebec.com.