The online opera guide to DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER
With the “Flying Dutchman” Wagner succeeded in creating his first masterpiece. The perfect orchestral language, the grandiose leitmotifs and the magnificent choral scenes make this work one of the German composer’s top works.
OVERVIEW AND QUICK ACCESS
♪ Act I (Sandwike-Scene)
♪ Act II (In Dalands House)
♪ Act III (Redemption-Scene)
♪ Johohohe (Senta’s Ballad)
♪ Verloren, ach verloren (Finale)
ROLES AND SYNOPSIS OF DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER IN 4 MINUTES
Richard Wagner, based on a legend and writings by Heinrich Heine (From the Memoirs of the Lord of Schnabelewopski)
Senta, daughter of the sailor Daland (soprano) - Erik, hunter and Senta's fiancé (tenor) - Daland, Ship's captain and Senta's father (bass) - Dutchman, cursed man and Dutchman's captain (baritone) - Helmsman, sailor on Daland's ship (tenor)
DECCA, Leonie Rysanek, George London, Giorgio Tozzi and Karl Liebl conducted by Antal Dorati and the Royal Opera House Convent Garden Chorus and Orchestra.
The biographical background
Wagner’s biographical anecdote about the reference to the “Flying Dutchman” has become a legend: Once again in Riga in 1839, fear of his creditors forced him to flee in a hurry. His destination was Paris, the Mecca of opera, where he wanted to stage his “Rienzi” at the Grand Opéra. Wagner decided to flee to Paris by water and they were smuggled aboard the “Thetis” in Königsberg. In the strait between Denmark and Sweden, the ship got caught in heavy storms. The captain was forced to seek refuge from the strong west wind in Sandwike, on the south coast of Norway. But after a few calm days at the North Sea, an even worse storm broke out, which raged for two days with towering waves and terrible thunderstorms. And how exactly Wagner designed the libretto according to his own experience is shown by the first appearance of Daland, who shouts: “Sandwike it is! I know the bay exactly.” When the Wagners arrived in Paris after detours, they were to stay in the French capital for almost three years. In Paris he wrote the libretto to the Dutchman. The Grand Opera did not stage Rienzi, and Wagner had to sell the libretto to the Dutchman in order to keep his finances above water, which did not prevent him from continuing to use the libretto for his own purposes. In 1842, he left Paris for Dresden, where he had received the promise for the premiere of his Rienzi.
The «new Wagner»
With the “Holländer” Wagner ends his early phase. At the age of 30 Wagner found his style in music-drama and art. Even if much should still be developed further, we find in this opera all the dispositions of the mature Wagner:
- Wagner’s life themes
- The way to music drama
- The libretto from his own pen
- The use of leitmotifs
Wagner’s life themes
With the Dutchman, Wagner found his unmistakable artistic path: “Four themes, which also dominate Wagner’s further work, form the cornerstones of the plot in the Flying Dutchman: the longing for death, the woman’s willingness to make sacrifices, love-death, and redemption.” (Holland/Csampai, “opera leader”). These themes are biographically determined, so it may be assumed that the person and fate of the Dutchman has a connection to the person of Richard Wagner: just like the Dutchman, the artist Wagner is a driven man, one who seeks redemption as an artist through the adversity of political and economic circumstances. This redeemer appears in this opera in the form of Senta, Wagner’s first “woman of the future”. In the Dutchman this “woman of the future” is still passive, surrendering herself to death; later figures of the Redeemer will develop a more comprehensive claim. “Wagner thought about nothing as deeply as about deliverance: his opera is the opera of deliverance. Someone always wants to be redeemed with him … this is his problem. (Nietzsche).
The way to music drama
The Dutchman is still to a large extent a number opera. But Wagner is already beginning to combine the numbers and form them into scenes and is forming the first approaches to musical drama.
The libretto from his own pen
Wagner took the story from a book by Heinrich Heine (“From the Memoirs of the Lord of Schnabelewopski”), which quoted a centuries-old legend. Wagner did not change much in the story, but according to his own statement he made the step from “author of opera texts” to poet with this work. He was now able to transfer his own inner being to the characters of the Senta and the Dutchman. The churning sea becomes a metaphor for the storm that rages in the protagonists. “I can only live in extremes,” Wagner said about himself. No sentence better describes the relationship between the Dutchman and Sentas, because the relationship is more than love, it seeks redemption through death. Thus Senta calls out in the second sentence: “I must see him! With him I must perish!” Erik and Daland are the counter-world, whose action remains purely external. This is alsoexpressed in the music, which remains very tonal in Daland’s and Erik’s part, and already experiences a characteristic chromaticization in Senta’s and the Holländer’s part.
The use of leitmotifs
Wagner does not yet have the full artistry of using the leitmotifs and the “Holländer” is not his first opera with this technique. But for the first time the leitmotifs have a conciseness that dominates the opera. In the commentary sections to the scenes you will find various examples of notes for the most important motifs.
Premiere in Dresden
The premiere took place on January 2, 1843, at the Royal Court Theater in Dresden. Wagner himself stood at the conductor’s podium. After the triumphant premiere of Rienzi at the same venue three months earlier, Wagner hoped for a repeat success. He was disappointed, however, and the audience received his work extremely lukewarm and the production was dismissed after four performances. Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient is said to have been an impressive Senta, but the mixed-up production and the other singers did not meet Wagner’s expectations. The Dutchman’s success only really took off with the adapted version of the Zurich performance of 1852.
DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER ACT I
The leitmotifs of the overture
Synopsis: Daland is caught in a storm with his merchant ship and has to seek refuge in a protective bay called Sandwike.
The opera begins with one of Wagner’s incomparable overtures. The stormy sea is painted as in a symphonic poem. Rossini’s and Meyerbeer’s storms are only a gentle breeze compared to Wagner’s hurricane. We hear three important leitmotifs in this opening piece. Right at the beginning we hear the Dutchman motif:
Shortly thereafter the concise ghost motif:
After this section we hear a lyrical theme, the so-called redemption motif
And shortly afterwards the love motif:
The storm sets in again and the sailor song “Steuermann, lass die Wacht”, which we will hear in Act 3, is heard. At the end the mood calms down again and with the theme of the redemption motif the overture ends solemnly.
Overture – Klemperer / Philharmonia
The song of the helmsman
Synopsis: The ship lies quietly at anchor and the helmsman is assigned the night watch. To keep awake he sings a song.
This longing aria of the helmsman is a beautiful sailor song. The part is written very high and even reaches the high C at the end.
Mit Gewitter und Sturm – Wunderlich
The Dutchman’s monologue – the surprise at the end
Synopsis: Unbemerkt ankert ein Schiff in der Nähe. Der Kapitän dieses Schiffes ist dazu verdammt, für immer auf See zu sein. Nur alle 7 Jahre, so wie jetzt, darf er an Land gehen. Wenn er dort eine Frau fände, wären er und seine Mannschaft von dem Fluch befreit.
The few bars that introduce the Dutchman’s monologue draw the loneliness and desolation of the bay as a reflection of his soul. At the beginning of the monologue, no key is discernible, creating a ghostly tension. In the second part “Wie oft in Meeres tiefsten Schlund” we hear the most important leitmotifs of the Dutchman. In the third part, “Dich frag ich frag ich gepriesener Engel Gottes”, the Dutchman is accompanied by the tremolos of the violins, which oscillate between the keys of C major and C minor, thus musically recording his turmoil between fear and hope of redemption, and in the fourth part the dark mood of the beginning returns. The mood is tilted, and the Dutchman is ready to give up hope: “You stars above, stop running! Eternal extinction falls upon me!”. When the music reaches the final chord, the miracle happens, it is written in radiant C major, and with a short, luminous cadenza this great monologue ends.
Die Frist ist um – Hotter
The Dutchman and Daland make a deal
Synopsis: When Daland goes on deck, he recognizes a second ship in the fog. Daland invites the captain to his ship. In conversation with Daland, the captain learns about Daland’s daughter Senta. The Dutchman shows Daland his gold and asks for Senta’s daughter’s hand. Daland is blinded by the wealth and agrees.
Durch Sturm und bösen Wind verschlagen – London
DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER ACT II
Synopsis: At home in Dalands Spinning mill, the women spinners are at work.
Wagner hold Carl Maria von Weber in high esteem, this scene is an overt copy of the famous model of the spinning wheel scene from the Freischütz (Schelm, halt fest).
Summ und brumm
Synopsis: Daland’s daughter Senta is immersed in the painting of the Flying Dutchman, whose story Mary had told her. Senta tells the spinners about her role as savior.
According to Wagner, he first wrote this ballad and it became the pivotal point of the music and the drama of the composition. Senta tells the story of the Dutchman in the ballad and the most important leitmotifs appear. In the first two verses we hear the story of the Dutchman. This part begins with the motive of the Dutchman of the orchestra followed by Senta’s sung ghost motive and it ends with the redemption motive. Afterwards the girls join in with the redemption motif in a moved manner and Senta ends the ballad ecstatically with the wish to redeem the Dutchman.
Listen to Senta’s ballad in two interpretations:
Johohoe! Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an (1) – Norman
A delicacy is Kirsten Flagstad’s ballad from the 30s. Flagstadt was one of the most important Wagner singers, her voice hatd a large volume and richness of sound even in dramatic passages.
Johohohe (1) – Flagstadt
Erik tells Senta his dream
Synopsis: Senta’s fiancé Erik enters the spinning mill and reports on the arrival of Daland. The girls run to the beach. Erik holds Senta back, because he is unsettled by Senta’s crush on the Dutchman. He assures her of his love and tells her about his dream where he saw her escape out to sea with a stranger. Spellbound, Senta listens to him and cries: “I must see him! With him I must perish!”. Horrified, Erik storms out of the room.
Auf hohem Felsen lag ich – King
Senta meets the Dutchman
Synopsis: Senta, lost in thought, looks at the painting of the Dutchman as her father enters together with the Dutchman. Now Senta and the Dutchman face each other.
This scene is not a duet of two actors, but of two people driven by their fate. What happens to them is predetermined by fate. Be it the curse of the Dutchman or Senta’s destiny as savior. It is a tender, dream of two related souls. Text and music do not describe a love duet, but an unspoken destiny and salvation.
Listen to the poignant duet “Wie aus längst vergangenen Zeiten” with Birgit Nilsson and Hans Hotter. Hotter was the leading Dutchman of the 1950s/60s, next to George London, and perhaps not surpassed even later (Fischer, Grosse Stimmen). Hotter (1909-2003) did not have the voice of the classical hero baritone, but possessed a Belcantian-soft voice.
Wie aus der Ferne längst vergang’ner Zeiten (1) – Nilsson/Hotter
Another interpretation of the duet “Wie aus der Ferne” (As if from far away) is beautifully sung by Kirsten Flagstad (sublimely) and Herbert Janssen (rarely does one hear the pain more beautifully). Unfortunately, the recording rustles and crackles.
Wie aus der Ferne längst vergang’ner Zeiten (2) – Flagstad/Janssen
Synopsis: Daland comes back and wants to hear the decision from them. Senta and the Dutchman vow to marry. Daland asks them to appear at the return celebration.
Verzeiht! Mein Volk hält draußen sich nicht mehr – Morris / Voigt / Heppner
DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER ACT III
Choir of the sailors
Synopsis: The villagers celebrate the arrival of the sailors with a festival on Daland’s ship. They call out to the sailors of the Dutchman, but it remains ghostly dark and quiet there.
With a transition music and without a break, the third act begins with the sailors’ choir. The choral parts of the “flying Dutchman” are overwhelming in their musical effect.
Steuermann lass die Wacht – Solti
Synopsis: The sailors of Daland’s ship sing in high spirits and mock the sailors of the Dutchman. Suddenly an eerie song from the Dutchman’s ship sounds and the sea begins to roar.
Chor des Holländers – Solti
Synopsis: Erik tries to change Senta’s mind once again and reminds her of her vow of loyalty.
Listen to this cavatina sung by Placido Domingo.
Willst Du jenes Tags – Domingo/Sinopoli
The grand finale of the Flying Dutchman
Synopsis: The Dutchman wants to spare Senta, and without her he sets sails. Senta vows loyalty to him, climbs a rock and flings herself into the sea. In the far distance, both of them rise from the sea in a transfigured form; the Dutchman holds Senta in his arms.
Wagner has composed an electrifying music for this finale. Senta’s renunciation follows the dramatic farewell scene of the Dutchman “Lost, oh lost, salvation is lost for ever”, the dramatic farewell scene of the Dutchman.
Verloren, ach verloren – King / Stewart / Löwlein
DECCA, Leonie Rysanek, George London, Giorgio Tozzi and Karl Liebl under the direction of Antal Dorati and the Choir and Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Convent Garden
Peter Lutz, opera-inside, the online opera guide to DER FLIEGENDE HOLLÄNDER by Richard Wagner