Imagine this: your father brings home a fictional character and suggests you marry them. How do you feel? If you’re Senta, the heroine in Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, you’ve already imagined that scenario.
Most cultures contain a drifter. In old TV westerns, it’s the stranger who rides into town, takes charge, beguiles a lady (that's Senta), and then leaves to drift some more. So too the title character, captain of the ship in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman. For centuries, stories have told of ships' captains who tempt fate, and are cursed adrift eternally.
The Dutchman was not Wagner’s first opera, but many consider it the one that spearheaded his career. Wagner developed The Dutchman over almost three years, beginning in 1840, and his inspiration came courtesy of a stormy sea crossing the year prior. Listen up for some leitmotifs (melodies or rhythms) representing themes and characters in the opera. There's no doubt this is Wagner, sounding powerful and passionate, blazing a path for dramatic epics to come.
Originally, Wagner set Dutchman in Scotland. He changed it to Norway while the opera was in rehearsals for its first production. Wagner conducted that premiere in January 1843 in Dresden. Ever resisting tradition, he wrote this opera to be performed without break despite expanding it into three acts.
"From here begins my career as poet, and my farewell to the mere concoctor of opera-texts." So declared Wagner about Der fliegende Holländer writing in Eine Mitteilung an meine Freunde (A Communication to my Friends) eight years after the opera’s premiere.
Find a complete synopsis of The Flying Dutchman on the MET’s website. And here is a translation of Wagner’s Remarks on performing the opera The Flying Dutchman.
Our Saturday, Oct. 13 broadcast comes from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
Egils Silins, bass-baritone, The Dutchman
Anja Kampe, soprano, Senta, Daland's daughter
Stephen Milling, bass, Daland, a Norwegian sailor
Endrik Wottrich, tenor, Erik, a huntsman
Clare Shearer, contralto, Mary, Senta's nurse
John Tessier, tenor, Daland's Steersman
Orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera House
Conductor: Jeffrey Tate
Wagner year, 2013
Bayreuth, Wagner and anti-Semitism: a timeline
on Oct 10, 2012