A stormy sea crossing when fleeing from Riga to London is supposed to have inspired Richard Wagner to set the saga of the Flying Dutchman to music, which he had shortly before read in Heine’s »Memoirs of Herr Schnabelewopski«. In so doing he was bowing to the contemporary taste for operas with a supernatural theme.
The Dutchman is cursed to roam the seas with his crew for the rest of eternity; a fate from which only a woman’s true love has the power to release him. Every seven years he is permitted to seek out his female saviour on land. Senta, whom he wishes to marry, feels it her destiny to save him. However, when the Dutchman learns of another younger rival for her hand, he has misgivings about Senta’s fidelity and turns his back on her. The young woman, broken-hearted, swears her undying love before casting herself into the sea; and when the Dutchman, together with his ship, accompanies her into the watery depths, the curse is finally broken.
With its focus on Senta’s inner life, and her act of selfless redemption, the »Flying Dutchman« occupies a unique place in Wagner’s operatic oeuvre. The work was premiered in Dresden’s Court Theatre in 1843.
Shortly before reaching home, the sailor Daland is caught in a storm with his
crew and decides to wait on the shore for the storm to abate. He tells his men
to go to sleep. Only the steersman is to keep watch but falls asleep before
long. A man appears. It is the Flying Dutchman, called so because ages ago he
wanted to sail round a cape by all means despite adverse winds and, on the
brink of failure, swore not to abandon his plan in all eternity. Since that
time he has been doomed to wander around the sea till the end of time. There is
only one chance for him to escape that fate: once in seven years he is allowed
to go ashore to find a wife who remains absolutely faithful to him. This time
has now come again. Daland discovers the Dutchman, talks with him and tells him
that he has a daughter named Senta. The Dutchman wants Senta for his wife, asks
Daland’s hospitality and promises to reward him with treasures never seen before.
Before long the two men have come to terms. The storm has ceased, Daland
returns home, the Dutchman follows him.
Senta is unlike the other girls in the village. While their aim is durable
wedded happiness, Senta has from childhood been fascinated with the story of
the Flying Dutchman which she heard time and again from her wet-nurse, Mary. Erik,
a hunter, has long been in love with Senta. Having noticed that Daland has returned,
he urges Senta to beg her father to approve of their marriage. However, Senta is
like obsessed by the Dutchman’s lot. To warn her, Erik retells a dream in which
she meets a foreign sailor. Sentas, on the other hand, understands this dream
as an omen that her wish to release the Dutchman will come true. Daland
introduces Senta and the Dutchman to each other. They both fall to each other instantly.
The Dutchman finds it hard to believe that Senta is actually willing to marry him,
but she swears she will be faithful to him till death. They are interrupted by
Daland, who wants to celebrate Senta’s betrothal with the Dutchman.
The seamen’s return and the announcement of the betrothal occasion a feast
which gets out of control. Erik calls Senta to account and calls their shared
experiences to her mind. The Dutchman overhears their conversation and is now
convinced that Senta is not capable of fidelity. He turns to leave. Senta
proves that she keeps her promise.
Choir of the Theodore Gouvy Gesellschaft
Production sponsor: Rudolf Wöhrl AG
Generously supported by the Semperoper Foundation