Curses and Curries in the Land of Enchantment

Curses and Curries in the Land of Enchantment

Santa Fe Opera:  Richard Wagner, “The Flying Dutchman”  (Der Fliegende Hollander)

Barry Cooney

Admittedly, the music of Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is not everyone’s cup of tea. I, myself, listen to his music selectively. But what I do listen to I find most enjoyable. The Flying Dutchman is one of those works.

Unlike operas characterized by lovely short arias and playful, back and forth dialogue,  (“recitative”), a Wagner opera, is filled with endless flows of melody and dramatic narrative.  Like it or not, this style revolutionized opera, employing what is termed “leitmotif” in which musical phrases are linked to a person, idea or place.

An early example of the composer’s use of leitmotif occurs in “The Flying Dutchman,” (1843), based on the legend of a Dutch Sea Captain condemned for blasphemous acts to sail in turbulent waters until Judgment Day. However, the only thing that will break this curse is to find a woman who will be faithful to him unto death. He has the opportunity to do this once every seven years when he is permitted to go ashore.

The music in this opera is forceful, dramatic and tense. Wagnerian opera requires singers with powerful lungs and forceful, sustained breath control.  Fortunately, all the lead vocalists in this new Santa Fe Opera production more than meet this performance standard.

At times, things on stage were a bit puzzling, particularly regarding costuming and set design.  In Act II, Senta, the opera’s heroine, is supposed to be at work with friends. In this production, everyone appeared in strange pink, bubble suite attire. I couldn’t figure out what kind of work they were doing. At first, it looked like a surreal brewery. After a few minutes I decided it didn’t really matter. Then, in the final moments of the performance, Senta is seen entwined in thick rope held offstage at either end, while the Dutchman stands in the distance looking like he just missed a bus. The actual storyline has her lunging off a cliff then appearing to rise to heaven in loving embrace with the Dutchman. My suggestion: accept what’s going on, don’t be overly judgmental, and take pleasure in the colorful sets and expansive background of the high desert Southwest.

In this production Nicolas Brownlee (Bass-Baritone) plays a convincing Dutchman, as does Morris Robinson (Bass), as Daland, the sea captain father of Senta who commits herself to the Dutchman.  Soprano Elza van den Heever sings the part of Senta.  She was in fine form, navigating between low register vocal narratives and soft high range romantic phrases. Conductor Thomas Guggeis, masterfully guided the orchestra and singers through some intricate musical moments.  A word of praise also needs to be extended to the Santa Fe chorus, who managed to stay together and harmonize beautifully while executing some rather confusing stage antics.

Whether you’re new to German Opera or not, this is a performance worth seeing.  It delivers on all fronts: musically, theatrically, vocally and aesthetically – a rare event in the complex world of opera; so much so, I just might see it again!

The Santa Fe Opera: The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner

Performances: August 5th, 10th, 15th and 25th.  8:00 pm

Tickets: $50 – $350

Box Office:  505-986-5900

Restaurant Review


Bawarchi Biryanis

Indian Cuisine

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Having been to India, I’ve become somewhat snobbish when it comes to Indian food.  Most of the Indian food I’ve eaten in New Mexico caters to Western tastes, generally under spiced (almost to the point of blandness), lacking any hint of authenticity.  When a friend recommended the restaurant Bawarchi Biryanis, in Albuquerque, I was curious, but hesitant. However, the possibility of sampling real Indian cuisine lured me from my comfortable Santa Fe surroundings to a rather obscure location off a mundane commercial highway on the East side of the Duke City.

It turned out to be a trip well worth taking. The food at Bawarchi Biryanis is the real thing. My palate was in heaven, and my nose was back in Uttar Pradesh, as I experienced the tastes and smells of tantalizing Indian spices. Every dish was prepared to perfection. I selected the “Prawns Sag” a shrimp and spinach dish made with paneer, a cheese exclusive to the subcontinent. If you like your Indian food spicy hot, this is the place to go. In fact, you may want to first order your food “medium spicy,” otherwise you might not be able to quell the blazing fire in your mouth.

While the atmosphere does not speak of Ancient India (eg. Paintings of Majarajas sitting atop decorated elephants are mercifully absent), it is pleasantly modern. The seating is comfortable with outdoor dining available. The wait staff was charming, helpful and efficient. They are more than willing to help you navigate through the various selections on the menu, which include curries of all varieties, as well as various marinated chicken and meat dishes cooked in a clay oven called a tandoor, under intense heat.

As I conclude this review, I am planning my next visit. This food is too good to pass up!

Bawarchi Biryanis offers both take out and delivery. They accept reservations and credit cards and are available for catering with advanced notice.


Bawarchi Biryanis

Open 11:00 am to 9:00 pm daily

3305 Juan Tabo Blvd. NE

Albuquerque, NM 87111

(505) 933-9889

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