REVIEW by Willard Manus

LOS ANGELES -- Shorn of most of Julie Taymor's excessive directorial choices, Los Angeles Opera's production of THE FLYING DUTCHMAN by Richard Wagner returned recently to the Music Center and scored something of a triumph.

Taymor was at the helm of Wagner's nautical tale when it was first mounted in 1995 by LA Opera and she went overboard in typical fashion. A mobile park bench, a Wandering Jew, children with dolls, seagull puppets and dancing clothing dummies were just some of her distracting and oft-ridiculous touches. The seagulls still flutter in Vera Calabria's current production, but otherwise she has simplified and/or revised Taymor's original plan, making it more faithful to Wagner's intention.

When it came to the ending of the opera, though, Calabria couldn't resist a bit of rewriting. Instead of Senta (the dynamic Mlada Khoudoley) leaping into the sea in Act III in a futile and tragic effort to save the Dutchman from his eternal punishment, she now merely reaches out to him at the water's edge. The lights fade out on their final, passionate embrace, leaving us with a more ambiguous and hopeful conclusion. No doubt feminism plays a part in this: Senta is much less of a doomed female victim now.

Calabria couldn't do anything about George Tsypin's set design, though. A huge, stunning, wooden construct that suggests the exposed ribs and keel of a Norwegian schooner, the set overwhelms the size and appearance of the Dutchman's ghostly vessel, making it seem as if Daland (Matti Salminen), the schooner's skipper, were the all-important character in the opera. Although the set also serves other purposes--it becomes the spinning mill in Act II, for example--it so dominates the stage that it dwarfs (and dehumanizes) everyone who struts on it.

One can't quibble, though, about the vocal and musical contributions to the opera. Khoudoley and Salminen, joined by Bernd Weikl as The Dutchman, Donald Kaasch as Erik, Greg Fedderly as The Steerssman and Suzanna Guzman as Mary, sang gloriously, as did the L.A. Opera chorus, and conductor Klaus Weise got the best out of the orchestra.

Next up at L.A. Opera is the third annual Gala on May 13 at 7.30 PM, starring Placido Domingo & Friends--Kristin Chenoweth, Renee Fleming, Juan Diego Florez, Denyce Graves, Hugh Jackman and Audra McDonald, with John Williams conducting. Then comes Mozart's Don Giovanni (May 21-June 22), followed by Frederica Von Stade in Recital (June 15). Call (213) 972-8001 or visit