Der Fliegende Hollander is one of my favorite operas. I bought this version having just heard (August, 2007) Jane Eaglen sing the role at the Seattle Opera. She was simply fantastic. I also liked her on Barenboim's Tannhauser recording, made just before this one. Unfortunately this recording doesn't work, for a number of reasons.
First of all is the conductor. Barenboim's tempi are generally on the slow side. While I personally prefer the more forceful versions of conductors like Keilberth and Haitink, the slower tempi work when there is still a sense of power and momentum, as in the versions by Klemperer and Furtwangler. But here there is no rythmic drive to this production--the tempi seem to vary arbitrarily for unexplained reasons and there are odd silences. While the silences in music can be just as effective as the sound, if overdone one tends to wonder if the stereo has suddenly gone off. Barenboim's dynamics also seem to vary for inexplicable reasons--perhaps to wake up the nodding listener. Periods of almost inaudibility will be followed by a blast of sound followed by another period of whisper-like quiet.
Then there are the soloists. Falk Struckmann isn't bad, just not remarkable. His is more the pensive and introspective Dutchman, rather than one of menace and power. You want to give him a cup of tea and tell him to buck up.
Jane Eaglen is simply not in good voice. Her top notes are thin and forced and the warm sumptuous tone that filled the Seattle opera hall and thrilled the audience last month is rarely in evidence. Her duet with her Seattle Dutchman (Greer Grimsley) had the audience on the edge of their seats. Her duet with Struckmann on this album is merely adequate.
And even luxury casting in the small roles doesn't help here. Dame Felicity Palmer, ordinarily a great mezzo-soprano, sounds like a second-rate stand-in. Robert Holl's Daland sounds detached and flat in affect, like he's simultaneously trying to figure out his income tax. Rolando Villazon is the Helmsman, and his singing is lovely in tone, but bizarre in interpretation. At moments he's practically crooning, and he takes such liberties with the tempo that you expect him to be leaning against a piano in a dimly lit cocktail bar. And there are more odd long pauses between phrases, as if he forgot the words. I can only assume he was doing this on the instructions of the conductor.
The best performance is by Peter Seiffert in the role of the hapless Erik. Seiffert sings with skill and drama, and conveys Erik's feelings of frustration and helplessness in the face of Senta's obsession with the Dutchman.
The chorus is fine although unremarkable. The sound is excellent.
Fans of the opera all have their particular favorite recording. Mine is the Klemperer, with Theo Adam and Anja Silja, followed a close second by the Keilberth, with Hermann Uhde and Astrid Varnay. Penguin's Opera Guide considers the Haitink, with George London and Leonie Rysanek as one of the finest recordings of any opera. There really are no BAD recordings, but unfortunately this one comes in near or at the bottom of the list.