DER FLIEGENDE HOLLANDER-WAGNER –ROYAL OPERA HOUSE
I saw Der Fliegende Hollander (The Flying Dutchman) at the ROH on 27 March 2000, conducted by Simone Young. It was one of Richard Wagner’s earlier works (he also wrote the libretto). He conceived the idea in 1839 whilst on a voyage from Pillau, East Prussia, to London in a flight from his creditors in Riga!
Wagner described the voyage thus:
“It lasted 3 weeks and was full for excitement. Three times we were overtaken by violent storms and on one occasion the captain had to seek refuse in a Norwegian bay... The legend of the ‘Flying Dutchman’ as I heard it was told by the sailors formed a vivid picture in my imagination. I felt as if I had myself experienced life among pirates.”
Incidentally, because of financial difficulties, Wagner was forced to sell the libretto to the Paris Opera which commissioned the French composer Pierre Dietsch to write the music, this version being performed in 1842 under the tittle Le Vaisseau-Fantome. But this did not prevent Wagner from composing his own opera which was performed for the first time on 2 January 1843 at the Court of Opera, Dresden under the direction of the composer.
The legend has it that the Dutchman – for an act of defiance (he set sail on Good Friday to show his contempt for God) has been condemned by Satan to sail the seas forever until Judgment Day unless he can be redeemed by a faithful woman’s love.
Allowed to go ashore every seven years he is entertained by the Norwegian Sea – Captain Daland. The Dutchman asks Senta (Daland’s daughter) to marry him. (Sie sei mein Weib). Her father, an avaricious man willing to sell her at any price, is delighted. Senta, who already knows of the legend, agrees to the marriage. Later, on overhearing a scene between Senta and her former lover Erik, he believes that she has betraved him and puts her out to the sea. Senta hurls herself into the sea and by her sacrifice brings him at last to redemption. The ship strikes a rock and sinks and the figures of the Dutchman and Senta rise up from the sea to Heaven.
Act I opens with the aria – Die Frist ist um (the term is over) lamenting the Dutchman’s hard fate. Bernd Weikl (replacing Bryn Terfel who had to withdraw from these performances through illness) performed the Dutchman.
In Act II Senta sings the ballad about the unfortunate man who can only be saved from eternal damnation if he finds a faithful woman. Daland was played by Kurt Moll. Senta by Solveig Kringdborn and Erik (a huntsman) by Kim Begley.
The “Dutchman” was Wagner’s first step away from normal opera form towards his “music dramas”. He wrote, 30 years later: “ to the best of my knowledge there is no such striking transformation in such a short time in any other artist’s life as that between “Rienzi” and the “Dutchman “.
Unfortunately the current version of Flying Dutchman at ROH didn’t get good reviews. “Flying into turbulence” and “under the weather“ pronounced the critics. Only Kurt Moll as the wonderfully rotund sea-captain Daland brought a whiff of humour to the mercenary old sea-dog out to sell his daughter for the best price. He actually seemed to be enjoying himself.
Bernard Weikl sounded as if he had been lashed to the mast, travel-weary and wandering for decades! The overture is appropriately storm-swept and evocative of folklore with hints of a Hebridean folk-tune, giving a realistic picture of the Captain’s ceaseless wandering at sea.
Simone Young, the ROH’s female conductor, made it all sound good!