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Lori Phillips Excels as Senta

Lori Phillips (Senta) and Ian Storey (Erik) in The Flying Dutchman, 2008, Washington National Opera, photo by Karin Cooper
The only cast change during the run of Der Fliegende Holländer at Washington National Opera is two performances in which soprano Lori Phillips replaces Jennifer Wilson as Senta. At Wednesday night's performance, not surprisingly, many of the kinks noted in the staging on opening night had been ironed out in the course of the run. Most of the main roles were just as remembered from my first review, with one exception. Alan Held, perhaps because of illness or some other physical reason, seemed more mysterious reservation than terrifying force in his first performance as the Dutchman. This time there was greater ferocity in the tone, the edge of a malevolent snarl that buzzed in the voice, a willingness to take risks. Whatever the cause, it was a welcome change.

As Senta, Lori Phillips brought a cocoa-creamy voice that has more of a mezzo cast than Jennifer Wilson's. That made for a Senta that seemed less detached from the world, less removed to the stratosphere than others. It also meant a full-throated but precisely tuned upper range for surgically precise and thrilling climaxes. In the Act II Dutchman ballad, she struck the accented opening high notes of each phrase with heroic, thick tone and the fullest orchestral moments proved a surmountable challenge for her soaring voice. She may develop into a first-rate Wagnerian soprano.

Other Reviews:

Daniel Ginsberg, Senta's Soaring Moment (Washington Post, April 4)
Perhaps Held felt re-energized by working with a different Senta, and the glorious stasis of the Act II duet was dark, moody, and lovely. Phillips acted well, giving a better account than Wilson of what the director apparently intended for Senta, her bird-like gestures of wings outstretched, which is tied into the staging's vision of the opera's conclusion. The only thing that did not convince me in the performance of either Senta was that mysterious opening melisma, which can grab the listener and immediately transport you into Senta's delusions, the obsession that leads to self-destruction.

The second and only remaining performance of The Flying Dutchman with Lori Phillips as Senta is scheduled for Monday (April 7, 7 pm).

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