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The Flying Dutchman
The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer) is a German opera with music and libretto by Richard Wagner. It is a Wagner-Werk-Verzeichnis (WWV) 63 opera in three acts. The premiere was performed at the Königliches Hoftheater Dresden in 1843 with Wagner as the music conductor. The music composer used leitmotifs (leading motifs) associated with the themes and characters. This opera displays the earlier attempts of his operatic style. The initial version of the opera was to be performed without a break, though it is commonly divided into three acts for convenience.
Background Information and History
Wagner wrote the draft for The Flying Dutchman when he was at his all-time low financially. Their lavish lifestyle and his wife’s retirement from the stage put them in a huge debt. Wagner wrote Rienzi, hoping to go to Paris and sell it in France to make money. However, his plans weren’t fruitful. He and his wife went through hardships for three weeks by secretly sailing from Riga to London.
When they had to survive on handouts and meager income in Paris, Wagner began working on the draft in 1840. The first version was inspired by The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski, a satire written by Heinrich Heine. Wagner completed the libretto of The Flying Dutchman in 1841. He composed the music during both years (1840-41). Wagner later made minor adjustments to the composition to divide the opera from a single act into three acts.
The plot was originally set in Scotland, but Wagner changed it to Norway before it was ready for production in 1843. As Wagner claimed in his essays, The Flying Dutchman was indeed a new start to his career. The first act starts with sea captain Daland sailing to his homeland when a storm compels him to take shelter in a port in Southern Norway. The rest of the plot is about the stranger, a Dutchman who needs to find a wife to be true to him if he wants to be released from a curse.
Acts 2 and 3 take place in Daland’s homeland and involve his daughter, Senta. The opera ends with Senta sacrificing herself to the sea and relieving the Dutchman of his curse. The spectral ship finally disappears. Senta and the Dutchman go to heaven. Johann Michael Wächter played the Dutchman, with Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient as Senta and Friedrich Traugott Reinhold as Daland in the premiere version.