Romantic opera in three acts by Richard Wagner
Seeking refuge from a violent tempest on his way home, Daland, a merchant and seafaring man, has his ship steered into a small bay just a few miles from his destination. The tired crew are going to have a rest, while only the helmsman is ordered to watch; but sleep overcomes him too. Then, frightening just by its outer appearance, an other sailing vessel approaches to drop anchor. It is the ship of the Dutchman who alights from it. He and his crew are damned to sail the world’s waters forever, terrifying all seafarers and sailors. He once wanted to sail round a cape, and be it with Satan’s help. There is just one promised hope left to him: every seven years he is allowed to go ashore and woo a woman. But he will not be delivered from this curse unless this woman, knowing about his fate, keeps faithful to him until death. Daland, stepping up on to deck, is very astonished to see the strange ship, the strange captain. They get into conversation. The Dutchman promises him treasures if he could find refuge in his house. And as he then hears about Daland having a daughter, he spontaneously asks for her hand in marriage. The Dutchman’s wealth induces Daland to confirm outright. Rising south wind enables the two ships to cover the short distance left until Daland’s home.
Daland’s daughter Senta and her nurse Mary surrounded by young girls and women, all knitting and spinning, whiling away the time with songs and joking words. Only Senta is kind of lost to the world. For quite a long time already, her mind has been seized by a large painting of the legendary flying Dutchman and a ballad about this unhappy seafarer often sung by Mary. As Mary refuses to sing the ballad once more, she is going to sing it herself. Everyone else gets more and more stirred in listening. At the end of her song, Senta is so violently obsessed by this tale as to leap to her feet and, fully absent minded, call out: «Let it be me to redeem you by my faith”. This is what Erik hears in entering. He loves Senta, thinking himself to be loved by her. Begging her to desist from this fantasy, he tells her his bad dream: that she would surrender to a stranger brought along by her father. Senta is listening full of enthusiasm, even this seems to her a simile of her Dutchman. Appalled, Erik leaves her. Daland enters together with the Dutchman. Senta gives a cry of astonishment. The two cannot but look at one another. Daland hardly manages to make it clear to his daughter that he would prefer this stranger to become his son-in-law. He leaves them alone. Lost in reverie, they approach each other. A profound inner correspondence brings them together. Back again, Daland seals happily the betrothal.
In the port, the sailors celebrate their homecoming. Girls bring them baskets full of food and wine. Also the crew of the Dutch ship is called over to join in. But strangely enough, there is nobody answering. The girls withdraw from the eerie place, whereas the sailors go on celebrating, getting more and more lively until the Dutch crew suddenly appear before them like terrifying ghosts. Bewildered and full of fear, the Norwegian sailors leave. Senta tries to escape from Erik. He follows her, harasses her and implores her to remember the promise of love she once gave. In great despair, the Dutchman who had to listen to all this, steps between the two, thinking he and Senta are lost once and for all. But he wants to save the girl, because she hasn’t vowed yet to be faithful to him before «the Eternal”. So he discloses his identity to all of them, revealing himself to be the flying Dutchman. Everyone shrinks back. But Senta, unwavering in her attitude, proves herself to be faithful to him until death. The Dutchman receives redemption thanks to a woman’s indestructible love.