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Opera Essentials: Der fliegende Holländer

Our quick guide to Wagner's first great work, inspired by the tale of a legendary ghost ship.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

27 January 2015 at 5.41pm | 7 Comments

The Story Begins…
The Flying Dutchman is condemned to sail the seas forever – unless he finds a woman who will be faithful to him for the rest of her life. The idealistic Senta vows to be this woman. But can she persuade the Dutchman to trust her?

A Legendary Tale
The legend of the Flying Dutchman originated in the 17th century, was written down in the 18th century and exists in a number of different versions. Wagner got the idea for his opera from an episode in a novel by Heine, which describes how the Dutchman was saved by a loyal wife. While Heine’s treatment of the story was sardonic, Wagner took the idea of the self-sacrificing woman very seriously; Senta was to be the first in a line of heroic, loving women in his operas.

The Old and the New
Wagner described how, in writing Der fliegende Holländer, he was opening the door to ‘a German school of original opera’. The opera certainly has many innovative features, not least the use of Senta’s Ballad as the ‘kernel’ for much of the musical material in the entire work. But the score also contains more traditional writing, including formally constructed arias and duets, and set-piece choruses. Wagner would develop many of the musical and dramatic structures explored in Der fliegende Holländer in his later operas.

The Need to Escape
Tim Albery highlights Senta’s frustration and yearning for love by giving Der fliegende Holländer a bleak, modern setting. Senta and her companions work in a grim sweatshop, while Daland and his laddish crew toil aboard a rusting trawler. The Dutchman, despite his sinister crew and strange appearance, offers Senta the possibility of escape from an unbearably claustrophobic society.

Several Versions
Der fliegende Holländer had its premiere at the Dresden Court Theatre on 2 January 1843. Wagner revised the opera several times over the next two decades, altering some of the scoring and in 1860 adding the Redemption Theme from Senta’s Ballad to the end of the overture. The Royal Opera’s current production uses Wagner’s original 1843 version.

Der fliegende Holländer runs 5–24 February 2015. Tickets are still available.

The production will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world on 24 February 2015. Find your nearest cinema.

The production is given with generous philanthropic support from Marina Hobson OBE and the Wagner Production Syndicate.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

27 January 2015 at 5.41pm

This article has been categorised Opera and tagged by Tim Albery, Der fliegende Holländer, Dresden, essentials, Flying Dutchman, Heinrich Heine, legend, myth, Opera Essentials, Production, Richard Wagner, Tim Albery

This article has 7 comments

  1. There's something wrong with the sub heading. Is there a word missing?

    • Chris Shipman (Head of Brand Engagement and Social Media) responded on 29 January 2015 at 11:27am

      Hi Pam,

      Apologies - this typo has now been corrected.


      ROH Content Producer

  2. David Anderson responded on 29 January 2015 at 3:11pm Reply

    To clarify, the Flying Dutchman is the ship, not its captain. Although did Wagner identify the title of the opera specifically with the captain -- does anyone know? In the score the character is identified as "Hollander" (with an umlaut).

  3. Kate Hopkins responded on 30 January 2015 at 10:07am Reply

    Dear David,

    Thanks for your comment - yes, you are quite right that the ship is called 'The Flying Dutchman' (we have an article on this in the programme). However, Wagner also uses the name for the ship's captain, as you note - his final line in the opera is 'Men call me the Flying Dutchman'. In the programme, we refer to him as 'the Dutchman' as in the score.

  4. Dennis Brown responded on 4 February 2015 at 2:57am Reply

    Thank you Kate for these excellent articles. Wagner and the Flying Dutchman are so personal to me. I just preordered the Blu Ray of this performance. Can't wait to watch Bryn Terfel as the Dutchman.

  5. John Braine responded on 5 February 2015 at 2:34pm Reply

    We are going this evening, opening night, last saw this piece at the ENO with Willard White in the role of the Dutchman, he was pretty powerful, I'm sure Bryn Terfel will be equally amazing. Very much looking forward to seeing it anyway.

  6. Neil responded on 23 March 2015 at 10:56am Reply

    I thoroughly enjoyed the live performance of the Dutchman in February. After the cinema screenings are there plans to release it on DVD?

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