Portfolio > Der Fliegende Hollander

Shannon Knox-
How do you stage the majesty of Richard Wagner? //
A question many if not all of us in this room have faced.
a harrowing challenge, considering that he himself died unsatisfied with his own attempts at staging Das Rheingold....//
Wagner believed that what you were seeing on stage should equal the power of the music. And his music, or rather to quote Edmund Pfuhl, “is not music, it is chaos, demagogy, blasphemy, insanity, madness! It is a perfumed fog, shot through with lightning!”
Wagner’s music is dangerous, hypnotic, AND intoxicating...it has incalculably affected the life and art of generations, and it is truly unparalleled. //

Our submission to opera america essentially contains two ideas: What we present to you today is a large scale opera with a socio-political supertext.
When I began working on this opera two years ago, i couldn’t have imagined the unstable and chaotic circumstances that we find ourselves in today. Given the current political climate, we did not want to ignore Wagner’s turbulent history, but we also did not want to exploit it.
What spectacle can rival the majesty of Richard Wagner? i believe the emotions we conjure by digesting what we find ourselves living, have the strength to rival the genius of Wagner’s music.
COINCIDENTALLY, we live in a time where there is massive spectacle in truth. //

Micaela will introduce our characters.

Micaela Tobin [associate director, sound artist, soprano]-
Der Fliegende Hollander is the story of one of the deepest human anxieties: the search for community, and the urge to find purpose and belonging. It was conceived in a moment of German history, not unlike today, where there was a plague of unfocused dissatisfaction and weariness with life. Wagner the artist longed for a refuge from his inability to connect with modern reality.

[SLIDE]Enter Senta, Our redeeming heroine. A white lower class citizen living in rural Pennsylvania. She lives in isolation, her nearest neighbor a long hike down unpaved roads. Her only connection to the outside world is through chat rooms.

The Dutchman’s crew is different in costume than Daland’s crew. Their backs are coated in white paint so that when they face upstage, they blend seamlessly, forgotten, into the backdrop of the set. When they finally reveal themselves at the top of act 3, the fronts of their bodies are stained a deep red and black..

the raging sea…(video plays)

and finally, our Dutchman: imposing and threatening--a man who devours the lives of all those he encounters. His opening declaration, “Die Frist ist um,” translates to “The time has come’ or ‘the term is up.” After being gone for seven long years, he now returns desperate and ruthless, searching for the old America--the WHITE America, and the catalyst that will enable it’s resurrection...

Shannon knox [director, scenic design, costume design]-
The overture begins, the light from a ring of torches penetrates the darkness, and the dutchman's crew, draped in long shrouds, begin a choreographed ritual---their undulating motions are spellbinding and terrifying, mimicking the tempestuousness of the raging sea.

Their ritual slows as the overture ends, the shrouds are drawn slowly over the bodies of the crew and hoisted like sails into the air, forming three walls of surrounding projection screen. The dutchmen crew takes their seats along the perimeter of the projection screen, their white painted backs toward us, they sit and wait.

Duck hunter the video game is projected. We are introduced to the world of the characters-
Daland enters with his steersman after a successful hunt, but their vehicle has broken down and they are stranded, he commands the steersman to keep watch while he rests. The steersman sings of his sweetheart, overwhelmed with longing, he performs a grotesque intimate waltz with the still-warm corpse of a deer.

An unsettling, envelops the stage. From a random seat amongst the dutchman’s crew, the dutchman himself stands and slowly walks with a predators gait to the very apron edge of the stage. He commands your attention with patient silence.
As he sings, “Die Frist isT um,” he slowly removes the white paint that covers his face, he now assimilates easily.

He encounters Daland. At the end of their duet, Daland grasps at the black fabric, hiding the imposing monolith that has been mysteriously haunting the stage thus far, and rips it from the structure, unveiling a large glass cube perched atop concrete street barriers. A BROWN LEATHER couch is the only piece of furniture within the box. Here sits our Senta, with her laptop.

-I will now turn it over to GABBY to speak more TO THE DRAMATURGY AND SPECIFICATIONS OF THE SCENERY.

Gabrielle Heerschap [technical director and design producer]
This glass cage holds senta like a trophy in a case and is one of the strongest dramaturgical aspects of our supertext. Her glass encasement both enables her seclusion from the world and represents the thin veil of ignorance that is erected from alienation, that although can provide preservation and protection, allows her to become so estranged from the morals of society.

Senta’s veil is our veil, our glass screens that we as a society frequently use as a shield of inaction. We watch horrific videos on the myriad of screens present in our lives yet how often do we remain complacent in the distance that screen provides? How private do our screens feel to us?
Here, Senta’s screen is not private. Her laptop will be connected to a projector in order to livestream Senta’s activity while on her computer. The audience will watch as Senta navigates the derisive world of alt right chatrooms seeking an ideology to cling to as she grows more and more desperate for human connection. [SLIDE]
In order to project on the glass, the box will be outfitted with SmartGlass film that will turn the transparent panels into video screens.

As a main focal point, the box will serve several needs of storytelling for this production and will thus be equipped with other tricks in addition to the smartglass film. For example, eventually a unity between Senta and the Dutchman occurs, the Dutchman must penetrate her world which has up to this point allowed her a perceived security. Using a common street magician trick, the Dutchman will pass into the glass box. This work will rely on a slight of hand in both the movement of the glass and the lighting of this moment to make the move imperceptible to the audience.

Now, we would also be remiss if we did not point out the inherent acoustical challenges of staging an opera singer inside of a box. While aesthetically a total glass enclosure is desirable, we found a way to design a solution that allows us to stay close to our desired look while maintaining the quality of the music and does not resort to electrical amplification. We have segmented the box into panels that are strategically gaped and angled in order to create natural amplification of the singer’s voice.

we meet our chorus of women.

Their corporeal form is absent from stage, and they appear to us through “skype calls”, forming a seemingly infinite landscape of women, in their own glass boxes, actively using pinterest facebook and twitter while they sing.

Senta busies herself with more insidious work AND RESEARCH,with a few clicks and precise internet searches, we see that she is an active participant in a chatroom of WHITE SUPREMACISTS and fascists-- a world that is easy to access if you’re keen to try.
IN HER ARIA she passionately champions a mysterious crusader she has met online and his search for a companion that will help him heal their country and restore it to its former glory
Erik, a hapless young soldier encircles her glass pedestal, totally bewildered by her radical fury....he is much younger than senta, he is not as clever or cunning as she, and his love is tragically unrequited.//

The Dutchman and Daland enter. Senta falls into a trance-like state, as the man she knows only through the internet is manifested before her. since the lighting design will do the heavy lifting in this scene, I will my pause my staging description and turn it over to our lighting designer, Becky.

Becky Heisler [lighting designer]
- The lighting design for this production is broken down into three basic themes: the forest, the dutchman and Senta, and Daland’s crew.

- For example, Act 1 takes place in the forest, which is a shadowy world built with naturalistic shapes, echoing the strains of uncertainty that Daland and his steersman experience. And then as night falls we are sharply contrasted with the headlights of their 4x4 providing most of the visible light for them to conduct their business. This also allows us to have a projection of the shadows of the steersman’s dance with the deer larger than life on the shrouds across the space.

So in this scene we are seeing the Dutchman and Senta seeing each other for the first time. The Dutchman and Senta are identified by this feeling of isolation that they carry around with them. Senta’s isolation is derived from the physical box in which she lives. We will have units within the box to illuminate Senta without illuminating the rest of the stage and to help change the whole box to adjust with her thoughts, moods, and feelings. The Dutchman’s isolation is derived from his inability to find a trustworthy companion and is more of an emotional state represented with extreme angles, and hard lines around his person.

- So once the Dutchman and Senta meet, our goal is to combine the isolation that both characters feel. To make this vast white space extremely intimate with paths of light that lead to each other. In essence, their destiny depicted in lights, and they have found their community that they have been searching for in each other.

- with no intermission, we fly into the last act- which opens with a bacchanal. This scene is characterized with open spaces and almost no dimensionality to emphasize the simplistic mentalities of Daland’s crew that is in direct contrast with the Dutchman and his crew which are shrouded in darkness and mystery.

The stage is sprawling with debauchery: Daland’s crew are brandishing signs and effigies of Obama. They are playing drinking games. Fights break out. Some are engaging in a knife throwing competition. others are lighting a spare chair on fire.

Eventually, someone wearing an Obama mask lights the Effigy on fire, and all pandamonium breaks loose: what starts as playful jeering at the costumed man, quickly escalates to violence, as they release their rage and frustration for the ex-president on this helpless clown. Gradually, everyone notices the Dutchman’s crew, with their painted white backs, sitting silently, unmoving against the walls. Stirred with a violent electricity, Daland’s crew jeers and taunts the men, commanding them to participate in their twisted games. They are met time and time again with an eerie silence, until one man throws a knife over the heads of the dutchman’s crew in an effort to provoke them. The crew is awakened, and in synchronized, calculated movements, turn as one and march down stage, forcing Daland’s crew off stage.

The crew return to their seats, this time facing the audience, and senta is revealed once more, eagerly awaiting the dutchman to free her.

The dutchman’s crew from now on repeatedly perform the task of assembling and disassembling their automatic rifles in complete unison, slowly creating, and aiming the gun each time with the threat of actually firing into space only to abruptly take it apart.

Erik enters again, this time determined to win senta, he removes his clothes and approaches the box, pressing his naked flesh against the glass, and senta having nowhere to run is forced to watch.
The dutchman re enters, observes the scene and assumes a tryst between erik and senta, furious at her PERFIDIOUSNESS, he denounces their love, for he must now hopelessly return to a displaced state,

Erik,// infuriated by his hate speech,// attacks the dutchman, he is easily bested and the dutchman leaves ERIK to bleed on the ground, and walks through the glass into the box, penetrating Senta’s world.

Senta is heartbroken, and becomes possessed. Desperate, she smashes her hands against the glass, attempting to break free. The male chorus mirrors her frantic attacks. Her hands bloody, SHE PICKS UP HER LAPTOP, SMASHING IT AGAINST THE GLASS, the pane shatters. She is free. Senta, exhausted from the effort, falls to the ground, dead. The SHROUDS LOWER, THE DUTCHMAN'S CREW DON THEIR CLOAKS, the projections disappear, and the RESURRECTION MUSIC ACCOMPANIES THE RESTART OF THEIR RITUAL.


We have constructed a horror machine. This is our response to the world we live in, and the problems plaguing our communities. We feel that it is now more crucial than ever to bring our beloved operas into relevant contexts that will not only jolt our current audiences, but also bring in new ones.

WE Are passionate about DEFENDing VOICES THAT ARE being silenced by political leaders, And talking OPENLY ABOUT THE SORDID TRUTHS AND HISTORY THAT HAVE LEAD US TO OUR CURRENT STATE. The art we want to make is the art that walks through the door and confronts that. This is why Wagner was our perfect choice. We want to use the power of Der Fliegender Hollander to reflect humanity and inspire conversation.

Thank you.

Speech Transcript