Review: Tomasz Konieczny Returns to the Met Opera in ‘Dutchman’

On Tuesday night, four years after being hailed as the breakout star of a revival of Wagner’s “Ring” at the Metropolitan Opera, Tomasz Konieczny returned there to headline “Der Fliegende Holländer,” or “The Flying Dutchman.” It was worth the wait.

Konieczny’s Dutchman, cursed to ride the seas endlessly in a ghost ship with black masts and red sails, seemed to channel supernatural forces as he emerged from the bowels of François Girard’s unremittingly dark production. Konieczny possesses an instrument of granitic power and brassy resonance, combining the depth of a tuba with the brightly penetrating cast of a trumpet. He can also cover his voice and fill it with pitiful tears. For such a sizable instrument, his attack is astonishingly clean; he inflates a straight tone to a vibrating roar and makes it sound like an exquisite cri de coeur.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, offered the role to Konieczny, a Polish bass-baritone, in 2019 when Gelb heard Konieczny’s company debut as Alberich in the “Ring” that year. Konieczny brought unusual charisma and nobility to the designated villain of Wagner’s epic tetralogy, and his Dutchman is likewise a complex creation.

A tragic figure whose stoic demeanor masks a writhing pain within, Konieczny’s Dutchman rises above earthly concerns but rages with focused fury against the ever-fresh torments of his Sisyphean predicament. His invincibility has made him disdainful of humans and desperate for death, and yet he harbors a romanticized fixation upon love. The Dutchman comes ashore once every seven years in search of a woman who can redeem him with her fidelity and break his curse. (Of course, the premise contains passive-aggressive misogyny — that a man in search of a faithful woman is doomed to look for her forever.)

As Senta, the woman who returns the apparitional captain’s obsessive attention, Elza van den Heever sang with a ductile soprano. In “Senta’s Ballad,” she catapulted into high-lying phrases with strength and point and drew her voice into a slender thread for beautifully formed pianissimo high notes. As infatuation consumed her, van den Heever summoned the tonal amplitude to fill out Wagner’s portrait of a love that is annihilating in its totality.

The clear thrust of Eric Cutler’s tenor gave the role of Erik, Senta’s abandoned lover, unusual poignancy. The bass Dmitry Belosselskiy effectively rendered Daland, Senta’s venal, easily dazzled father, as a strong yet foolish man who would trade his daughter for riches.

Girard’s production — like his recent “Lohengrin” — attempts to get a lot of mileage out of a few ideas. It’s long on ambience, with billowing fog and undertones of sickly, hallucinogenic greens, and short on storytelling.

Fortunately, the 29-year-old conductor Thomas Guggeis, making his Met debut, added depth to the atmosphere of roiling fantasy. The overture came alive with stormy eddies and pulsating vigor, even as video projections of a maelstrom and cracks of lightning felt redundant. The strings, in particular, found imaginative colors: Their throbbing vitality, unabashed romance and otherworldly shrieks covered the range of a work that swings from bel-canto influences to the enthralling mythmaking that would become Wagner’s signature. There were some missed opportunities — such as the dark timbres that color the Act II duet for Senta and the Dutchman — but overall, Guggeis was a confident, sensitive, decisive presence.

At times, Girard’s abstract staging still seems to distrust the material, but kinetic conducting and a richly characterized central performance show that it may simply have been waiting for a few artists to redeem it.

Der Fliegende Holländer

Through June 10 at the Metropolitan Opera, Manhattan;

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