The Complete Wagner - Der fliegende Holländer

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

'Der fliegende Holländer' (The Flying Dutchman), is a German opera, with libretto and music by Richard Wagner.

Wagner claimed in his 1870 autobiography, 'Mein Leben', that he had been inspired to write the opera following a stormy sea crossing he made from Riga to London in July and August 1839.
In his 1843 'Autobiographic Sketch', Wagner acknowledged he had taken the story from Heinrich Heine's retelling of the legend in his 1833 satirical novel 'Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski'.
The central theme is redemption through love.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
Composition and Production

Wagner conducted the premiere at the Semper Oper in Dresden in 1843.
This work shows early attempts at operatic styles that would characterize his later music dramas.
In 'Der fliegende Holländer' Wagner uses a number of leitmotifs (literally, "leading motifs") associated with the characters and themes.
The leitmotifs are all introduced in the overture, which begins with a well-known ocean or storm motif, before moving into the Dutchman and Senta motifs.
Wagner originally wrote the work to be performed without intermission – an example of his efforts to break with tradition – and, while today's opera houses sometimes still follow this directive, it is also performed in a three-act version.
In his original draft Wagner set the action in Scotland, but he changed the location to Norway shortly before the first production staged in Dresden and conducted by himself in January 1843.
In his essay 'Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde' in 1851, Wagner claimed that 'The Dutchman' represented a new start for him:
"From here begins my career as poet, and my farewell to the mere concoctor of opera-texts."

Indeed, to this day the opera is the earliest of Wagner's works to be performed at the Bayreuth Festival, and, at least for that theater, marks the start of the mature Wagner canon.

The Myth

The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman is a legendary ghost ship that can never make port and is doomed to sail the oceans forever.
The myth is likely to have originated from 17th-century nautical folklore.
The oldest extant version dates to the late 18th century.
Sightings in the 19th and 20th centuries reported the ship to be glowing with ghostly light. 
If hailed by another ship, the crew of the Flying Dutchman will try to send messages to land, or to people long dead.
In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship is a portent of doom.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015

'Der fliegende Holländer'


Place: On the coast of Norway

Act I

On his homeward journey, the sea captain Daland is compelled by stormy weather to seek a port of refuge near Sandwike, Norway.
He leaves the helmsman on watch and he and the sailors retire.
(Song of the helmsman: "Mit Gewitter und Sturm aus fernem Meer" – "With tempest and storm on distant seas.")
The helmsman falls asleep.

A ghostly vessel appearing astern is dashed against Daland's vessel by the sea and the grappling irons hold the two ships together.
Invisible hands furl the sails.
A man of pale aspect, dressed in black steps ashore.

© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
He laments his fate.
(Aria: "Die Frist ist um, und abermals verstrichen sind sieben Jahr" – "The time has come and seven years have again elapsed")
Because he once invoked Satan, the ghost captain is cursed to roam the sea forever without rest.
An angel brought to him the terms of his redemption: every seven years the waves will cast him upon the shore; if he can find a wife who will be true to him he will be released from his curse.
Daland wakes up and meets the stranger.
The stranger hears that Daland has an unmarried daughter named Senta, and he asks for her hand in marriage, offering a chest of treasure as a gift.
Tempted by gold, Daland agrees to the marriage.
The southwind blows and both vessels set sail for Daland's home.

Act II

A group of local girls are singing and spinning in Daland's house.
(Spinning chorus: "Summ und brumm, du gutes Rädchen" – "Whir and whirl, good wheel").

Senta, Daland's daughter, dreamily gazes upon a gorgeous picture of the legendary Dutchman that hangs from the wall; she desires to save him.
Against the will of her nurse, she sings to her friends the story of the Dutchman (Ballad with the Leitmotiv), how Satan heard him swear and took him at his word. She vows to save him by her fidelity.
The huntsman Erik, Senta's former boyfriend, arrives and hears her; the girls depart, and the huntsman, who loves the maiden, warns her, telling her of his dream, in which Daland returned with a mysterious stranger, who carried her off to sea.
She listens with delight, and Erik leaves in despair.
Daland arrives with the stranger; he and Senta stand gazing at each other in silence.
Daland is scarcely noticed by his daughter, even when he presents his guest as her betrothed.
In the following duet, which closes the act, Senta swears to be true till death.


The Crew
© Copyright Zac Sawyer 2015
Later in the evening, the local girls bring Daland's men food and drink.
They invite the crew of the strange vessel to join in the merry-making, but in vain.
The girls retire in wonder; ghostly forms appear at work upon the vessel 'The Flying Dutchman', and Daland's men retreat in fear.
Senta arrives, followed by Erik, who reproves her for deserting him, as she had formerly loved him and vowed constancy.
When the stranger, who has been listening, hears these words, he is overwhelmed with despair, as he thinks he is now forever lost.
He summons his men, tells Senta of the curse, and to the consternation of Daland and his crew declares that he is the "Flying Dutchman".
As the Dutchman sets sail, Senta throws herself into the sea, claiming that she will be faithful to him unto death.
This is his salvation.
The spectral ship disappears, and Senta and the Dutchman are seen ascending to heaven.

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