Der fliegende Holländer, Opera by R. Wagner
In his early opera Der fliegende Holländer (or The Flying Dutchman), German composer Richard Wagner lays down the foundations of his distinct style. See the birth of a genius at Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence!
Rumour has it that Wagner got his inspiration for Der fliegende Holländer on a stormy boat trip from Riga to London in the summer of 1839. However, the composer himself acknowledged his true creative source was Heinrich Heine’s rendering of the age-old legend in The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski. Wagner, who also penned the libretto, did away with Heine’s original satirical tone and focused his efforts on developing the fantastical elements of the tale instead. The premiere on 2 January 1843 at Dresden’s Königliches Hoftheater was a hit.
Der fliegende Holländer tells the tale of a sea captain who is cursed to roam the seas forever and be swept ashore once every seven years. A woman’s selfless love is his only chance at salvation, and his ghost ship has drifted for what seems an eternity. The end of another seven-year cycle finds the Dutchman in Norway where he meets Captain Daland and offers him a treasure in exchange for his daughter Senta’s hand in marriage.
Against the prejudices and premonitions of the locals, Senta immediately feels drawn to the stranger whom her father brings home. Even when his ghostly nature is revealed, Senta’s choice remains firm. As the dark vessel pulls away, the young woman jumps into the stormy sea. The Dutchman, freed of his terrible curse, embraces her, and they both ascend to heaven.
Wagner wrote the story and composed the music to Der fliegende Holländer at a time of great personal trials: he was in debt, and his wife had just suffered a miscarriage. Under pressure, the German genius reinvented himself completely and established the basis of his signature style. Der fliegende Holländer shines with leitmotifs that characterise both actors and overall themes and pull the audience deep into the storyline.
The predestination in Senta and the Dutchman’s love finds musical embodiment in the hypnotic background music of their first encounter. The male lower register showcases memorable melodies, such as Daland’s ‘Mögst du, mein Kind?’ or the Dutchman’s duet with Senta ‘Wie aus der Ferne längst vergang’ner Zeiten’. The choruses ‘Summ’ und brumm’, du gutes Rädchen’ and ‘Steuermann, lass die Wacht!‘ stand out, too.