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Review: L.A. Opera's 'Flying Dutchman' back in action

With soprano Elisabete Matos returning to convey an intensity missing on opening night, L.A. Opera's 'The Flying Dutchman' regains its footing.

March 22, 2013|By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic

Conditions on the ground weren't ideal, and "The Flying Dutchman" did not achieve liftoff when Los Angeles Opera opened its gloomy new production of Wagner's gloomy early opera the second Saturday of March at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

But by the first day of spring, a little elevation, if not exactly winged victory, had become possible.

As the curtain was about to rise on that uncertain opening night, Portuguese soprano Elisabete Matos felt suddenly unwell, giving her cover and former L.A. Opera chorus member Julie Makerov only 12 minutes to get costumed and made up (with no time left to fit her wig) before heading on stage to make her debut with the company in a leading role.

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Under the circumstances, she proved impressively capable, but those circumstances included relatively weak leads, an orchestra that sounded under-rehearsed and a slightly sci-fi production that came across as half-cooked.

Matos was back in action Sunday to make her L.A. Opera debut, and on Thursday night, she seemed fine for the third of the six performances that run through March 30. This time, though, tenor Corey Bix was indisposed and his cover, John Pickle, wound up making his, also capable, L.A. Opera debut as Erik.

As Senta, Makerov had youth in her favor, this being the role of a teenager infatuated by the legend of the Dutchman, who wanders the earth through many lifetimes until a young woman would sacrifice herself to free him.

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Matos had the advantage of maturity. If not a girlish Senta, she revealed the certain vocal resources, once warmed up, to dish out luxuriantly powerhouse high notes, to convey an intensity that had been missing opening night.

She also managed to nudge more electricity from Tómas Tómasson's Dutchman. Cautious opening night, he pushed himself out of his light baritone comfort zone Thursday, was occasionally shaky and consequently made one sit up and notice.

Erik, the conventional hunter Senta dumps for the more mysteriously dangerous Dutchman, may be the least ingratiating of all Wagner's roles. Pickle properly set his reliable tenor to the task of a romantic ardor suitable for thwarting.

This "Dutchman" is still no marvel, and audiences aren't exactly breaking down the doors to attend (I don't recall ever seeing so many empty seats in the orchestra section of an L.A. Opera Wagner opera). But the orchestra and chorus are now more settled, the cast has become more compelling and respectability, at least, has been reclaimed.

mark.swed@latimes.com

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'The Flying Dutchman'

Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, downtown L.A.

When: 2 p.m. Sun.; 7:30 p.m. Wed. and Sat.

Tickets: $19 to $309

Information: (213) 972-8001 or http://www.laopera.com

Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (no intermission)

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