The Flying Dutchman

The Story of Wagner's Opera

The Final Scene From The Flying Dutchman

Johann Jacob Weber/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain 

The Flying Dutchman is a one-act opera (though sometimes split into three) composed by Richard Wagner telling a scary story of a sailor and his daughter caught in a storm on the sea. It takes place off the coast of Norway during the 18th century. It premiered January 2, 1843 at Semper Oper in Dresden.

The Story of The Flying Dutchman

Making his way back home, Captain Daland's ship is caught in an icy storm that has pushed his ship off course. Daland drops anchor and decides to wait the storm out before retiring for the night while leaving his helmsman on watch. After Daland and the other sailors take to their cabins, a mysterious ship appears and locks itself to Daland's. The helmsman is unaware of the events taking place since he has fallen asleep. Stepping out of the ghostly ship is the Flying Dutchman; dressed in black, his pale face and sulking demeanor is not someone with which you'd want to cross paths. He laments his fate and reveals that he had made a deal with Satan that he would sail around the Cape of Good Hope if it took him forever. However, an angel once delivered him instructions of his salvation, so that once every seven years, if he is able to find a wife that is pure of heart and true to him, he will be free of his curse. Daland wakes up and speaks with the Dutchman. The Dutchman offers Daland a large sum of money for the night's lodging. He then learns that Daland has a daughter and asks for her hand in marriage. Daland, mesmerized by the amount of wealth the Dutchman has acquired, quickly obliges. It isn't long before the sea's calm enough for safe passage, and the two ships make their way towards Daland's home.

In Daland's home, Senta, his daughter, is watching a group of local women sing and make sails. They tease her about her boyfriend and suitor, Erik the Huntsman, but she is too busy staring at and daydreaming of a picture of the fabled Dutchman. Vowing to rescue him from his demise, she promises fidelity to him. Erik arrives and overhears her vow. Worried, he warns her that he had a dream the night before of a strange man arriving with her father and carrying her out to sea. She takes delight in his dream, but he leaves full of grief. It isn't long before Daland arrives with the mysterious guest. They stand there in silence, unbelieving of what they see. Daland introduces the Dutchman as Senta's betrothed. She tells him that she will remain truthful and faithful to him until she dies. Daland couldn't be happier and blesses their union.

Later that evening, the women of the village invite the Dutchman's crew to join in the merriment and celebration of the impending marriage. Erik, angry and upset, confesses his love for Senta and pleads with her to remain faithful to him. The Dutchman overhears Erik's plea and believes Senta has lied to him. The Dutchman and his ghostly crew quickly depart and make their way back to the ship. Their ghostly forms, now apparent to the people, prompt screams and dismay. The villagers run to the shore to watch the events unfold, including Erik and Daland. Senta, herself has made her way to the shore, only to take perch on a tall cliff overlooking the bay. Remembering her vow of faithfulness to the Dutchman, she lunges herself off the cliff and falls into the icy waters below. Moments later, the heavens open and the Dutchman and Senta embrace as they are lifted into the clouds.