The director’s part

“We liked how Actress X played her part – we just didn’t like Director Y’s production.” Every now and then, critics write this – without noticing the contradiction within. More often than not, it turns out that Actress X excelled because Director Y had shaped her role in a way that made it possible for her to excel and/or had worked with her on creating it.

I believe that it is particularly true of the 2021 production of The Flying Dutchman in Bayreuth. Clive Piage writes about Asmik Grigorian’s Senta:

Her physicality is so in touch with the vocal line that you’ll learn as much by watching her as you will by listening to what she says.

Jim Pritchard comments:

…Asmik Grigorian gives one of the finest opera performances I have ever seen and does not just sing Senta, she becomes her! Grigorian’s dramatic conviction is total and her almost hyperactive gesticulations could be annoying if she wasn’t creating such a complex, living, breathing person, with a volcanic personality and eager to grab all life has to offer if she could only get the chance.

“She becomes her!” The Senta of Tcherniakov’s, not Wagner’s creation. Perhaps the director realized that the singer was not the right type for a self-sacrificial monomaniac but would be perfect for an argumentative, aggressively sarcastic young lady. That’s how her “physicality,” including her “almost hyperactive gesticulations,” came in such close touch with the “vocal line.”

We have no way of knowing how Grigorian would have played a different Senta – opera singers aren’t supposed to be universal actors, after all. Likewise, Claus Guth’s Salome was perhaps the wrong kind for her, while Romeo Castellucci’s Salome was a perfect fit.

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