The Flying Dutchman

In three acts by WAGNER.


This fine opera is Wagner's second work, which he composed in direst

need, when living at Paris with his young wife. The songs, which so

well imitate the hurricane and the howling of the ocean, he himself

heard during an awful storm at sea. The whole opera is exceedingly

characteristic and impressive. Wagner arranged the libretto himself,

as he did for all his operas which succeeded this one. He found the

substance of it in an old legend, which dates from the 16th century.

The flying Dutchman is a sort of wandering Jew, condemned to sail

forever on the seas, until he has found a woman, whose love to him is

faithful unto death.

In the first act we find ourselves on the high seas. Daland, a

Norwegian skipper, has met with several misfortunes on his way

home, and is compelled to anchor on a deserted shore. There he finds

the flying Dutchman, who vainly roves from sea to sea to find death and

with it peace. His only hope is dooms day. He has never found a

maiden faithful to him, and he knows not how often and how long he has

vainly tried to be released from his doom. Once, every seven years, he

is allowed to go on shore, and take a wife. This time has now come

again, and hearing from Daland, that he has a daughter, sweet and pure,

he begins to hope once more, and offers all his wealth to the father

for a shelter under the Norwegian's roof and for the hand of his

daughter Senta.--Daland is only too glad to accept for his child, what

to him seems an immense fortune and so they sail home together.

In the second act we find Senta in the spinning-room. The servants of

the house are together spinning and singing. Senta is amongst them,

but her wheel does not turn, she is dreamily regarding an old picture.

It is that of the flying Dutchman, whose legend so deeply touches her,

that she has grown to love its hero, without having in reality seen him.

Senta has a wooer already in the person of Erick the hunter, but she

does not care much for him. With deep feeling she sings to the

spinning maidens the ballad of the doomed man, as she has heard it from

Mary, her nurse:

An old captain wanted to sail round the Cape of Good Hope, and as

the wind was against him, he swore a terrible oath, that he never would

leave off trying. The devil heard him and doomed him to sail on to

eternity, but God's angel had pity on him and showed him, how he could

find deliverance through a wife, faithful unto the grave.

All the maidens pray to God, to let the maiden be found at last, when

Senta ecstatically exclaims: "I will be his wife!" At this moment her

father's ship is announced. Senta is about to run away to welcome him,

but is detained by Erick, who tries to win her for himself. She

answers evasively; then Daland enters and with him a dark and gloomy

stranger. Senta stands spell-bound: she recognizes the hero of her

picture. The Dutchman is not less impressed, seeing in her the angel

of his dreams and as it were his deliverer, and so, meeting by the

guidance of a superior power, they seem created for each other and

Senta, accepting the offer of his hand, swears to him eternal fidelity.

In the third act we see the flying Dutchman's ship; everybody

recognizes it by its black mast and its blood-red sail. The Norwegian

sailors call loudly to the marines of the strange ship, but nothing

stirs, everything seems dead and haunted. At last the unearthly

inhabitants of the Dutch ship awake; they are old and gray and

wrinkled, all doomed to the fate of their captain. They begin a wild

and gloomy song, which sends a chill into the hearts of the stout


Meanwhile Erick, beholding in Senta the betrothed of the Dutchman, is

in despair. Imploring her to turn back, he calls up old memories and

at last charges her with infidelity to him.

As soon as the Dutchman hears this accusation, he turns from Senta,

feeling that he is again lost. But Senta will not break her faith.

Seeing the Dutchman fly from her, ready to sail away, she swiftly runs

after him and throws herself from the cliff into the waves.

By this sacrifice the spell is broken, the ghostly ship sinks for ever

into the ocean, and an angel bears the poor wanderer to eternal rest,

where he is re-united to the bride, who has proved faithful unto death.

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