West Bay Opera demonstrated its willingness to stage a major opera with an experimental approach in its production of The Flying Dutchman, by Richard Wagner, May 23-25, and May 30-June 1, at Palo Alto's Lucie Stern Theater. The Flying Dutchman was one of Wagner's first big hits, premiering in Dresden, in 1843. The emphasis is certainly on the "big" part. It is long, it is weighty, it is makes great demands on it singer-actors, and on its audience, too. Taking an innovative approach to helping the audience envision the setting of the opera, West Bay used the creative resources of video designer Chad Bonaker. During the overture, images of water play on the transparent screen on stage. At other times during the performance, the screen returns to allow images to aide expression of the setting, relationships, and mystery of the story. While the audience listens to a sea chanty sung by the Steersman, it also sees ghost ships with red sails and black mast floating into view. Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) is based on folklore about a Dutch sea captain, Philip Vanderdecken, who is said to have sworn that "in spite of the devil" he would sail around the Cape of Good Hope, even if it took him forever. The devil, apparently listening and never one to miss a chance for a joke at someone else's expense, condemns the captain to roam the seas for eternity, seeking "redemption." There is only one way he can gain it. He must find a woman who will love him faithfully "unto death." Opera goers can hear that as a clue to all that follows. It is also a bit of male-chauvinist piggery on the part of the devil as it implies that such a woman is so impossibly difficult to find, that the Dutchman will indeed be a lost soul until Judgment Day. The opera is set in an eighteenth century Norwegian sea port. The colorful costumes, designed by Callie Floor, enliven the stage and add a sense of historical place to the strange ghost story of the opera. Fortunately for the Dutchman and for West Bay Opera, Senta, the pure though slightly dippy woman who loves the Dutchman even before they meet, was portrayed on opening night by Paula Goodman Wilder. Her singing was strong and beautiful. She captured the difficult music and characterization securely enough to insure redemption of the Dutchman and of the whole presentation. The Flying Dutchman is a good match for the Bay Area. Our focus now is more on freeways and parking spaces, but much of the area, especially San Francisco, of course, came into being, at about the time the opera premiered, because of sea ports. In the opera, when the ships are tied to the dock, the sailors are greeted by their wives and sweethearts. When the sailors and townfolk invite the crew of the Dutchman's ship to join in the revelry, they hear voices from inside the mysterious ship with red sails. Those sailors sing about their damnation to the eternal voyage. This puts a stop to the partying. As is often the case in opera, even a happy ending is not exactly happy. Senta proves her devotion by jumping into the sea to her death. The Dutchman prepares to set off again, but, fortunately, his ship sinks. Senta and the Dutchman are joined together forever, rising toward heaven. The ending of the opera offers a challenging problem for staging. How should the transfiguration and rising to heaven be shown? Should it be shown at all? Director David F. Ostwald chose to use the screen with pictures of the now heavenly pair seen first very small as though far away and then growing bigger as though coming closer, as the other performers pointed heavenward from behind the screen. This was in keeping with the choice to employ video techniques as a visual theme for the production, and yet might have been both more and less literal than necessary. Transfiguration, however, not having been witnessed, how to suggest it at all may be more than even the greatest stagecraft can attain. West Bay Opera casts outstanding professional singers in leading roles and similarly outstanding amateurs in chorus and smaller roles. The Flying Dutchman was double-cast with the extraordinary, powerful Douglas Nagel on opening night, and Bryan Glenn Davis playing The Dutchman, Ms. Goodman Wilder and Gail Sullivan as Senta. John Bischoff and Peter Graham portrayed Daland, Senta's avaricious father; Ben Bongers and Vincent Chambers portrayed Erik, Senta's more normal suitor. Donna Olsen and Sally Mouzon sang the role of Mary, a leader of the local ladies who sings while they spin. West Bay's General Director, Jose Luis Moscovich conducted, Mr. Ostwald directed, and sets with realistic ships and interiors were designed by Peter Crompton. He also designed the nautical images. The performance was sung in German with the excellent English supertitles easy to see on either side of the stage, making the grand, spooky opera accessible to all.