By STEVEN HOWELL
---- — MONTREAL — There really is a phantom of the opera.
Opera de Montreal presents Richard Wagner’s classic “The Flying Dutchman” for a four-performance run beginning Saturday.
The legendary story follows the captain of a phantom ship who travels the seas in search of redemption. The production is a timely nod on the part of Opera de Montreal to present a work honoring the bicentennial of the German composer’s birth — Wagner was born in 1813.
“It’s the first Richard Wagner opera that sets the pace for the rest of his tremendous body of work,” said artistic director Michel Beaulac. “Before that, the few operas he wrote were more like essays or tryouts.”
Beaulac said the early works were not that successful.
“But in terms of the development of the music, its expressionism and the theme of redemption through love, it is a work that establishes the rest of his compositions.”
The tale tells of a “very romantic” idea of love, Beaulac said. It also adds a little “salvation of humanity” to the operatic mix.
“And that’s true even today,” Beaulac said.
In it, the Dutchman is a sea captain who has been condemned to roam the cold northern seas for seven years. Every once in awhile, he is allowed to pull into a port.
“To try and find love,” Beaulac said.
The Dutchman does find love with a woman named Senta. But there’s just one problem: Senta is engaged to Erik.
“People know of the captain’s reputation for roaming the seas,” Beaulac said. “And Senta has fantasized about him as a legend. But this legend comes to life.”
When Senta discovers the Dutchman is in town, she decides that she’ll be the one to save him from damnation. In the interim, she tells her fiancé, Eric, that she is leaving him for the Dutchman. And not to give anything away, Beaulac said that while the ending is tragic, it is nonetheless positive.
“Boundless love becomes the salvation of the Dutchman,” he said.
Appropriate for the work, the major lead roles for the opera hail from Germany. The cast stars bass-baritone Thomas Gazheli as the Dutchman, tenor Endrik Wottrich as Erik, soprano Maida Hundeling as Senta and bass Reinhard Hagen as Daland.
“They might not be well-known worldwide, but they are all top singers,” Beaulac said. “Their voices do justice to this work.”
Beaulac said it helps that a German opera is sung by a German cast.
“In Wagner, you not only need someone with a very powerful voice because the orchestra is huge, it’s close to 70 musicians,” Beaulac said. “But it’s not the number, it’s the texture of the orchestra — it’s very full. So you need powerful, strong, well-projected voices.”
Beaulac said the native vernacular goes a long way.
“The voices emanate much more with greater ease when the language of the opera is your own,” he said. “The resonance, position of the vowels and articulation is always clearer in a native language.”
No matter what language, Beaulac said the audience is in for a treat.
“Wagnerian fans are really fanatic about it,” he said. “It’s a very continuous flow of music through singing, not just arias. There’s a structure that makes it flow from one end of the opera to the other.”
Beaulac said the world in which the Dutchman lives also offers its own sense of fascination.
“The music is like waves,” he said. “You can actually see the waves in your mind. It’s a total experience.”
Steven Howell is the author of Montreal Essential Guide, a Sutro Media iPhone travel app available at iTunes.com.IF YOU GO WHAT: "The Flying Dutchman." WHEN: Curtain call is 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10, 13, 15 and 17. WHERE: Place des Arts, 175 St. Catherine St. W., Montreal (Metro station Place des Arts). ADMISSION: Individual tickets range from about $49 to $119. CONTACT: Call the Place des Arts box office at (866) 842-2112, or visit www.pda.qc.ca or www.operademontreal.com. NOTE: To follow along, the work features English and French "surtitles" positioned over the stage proscenium.