“Der Fliegende Holländer” by Wagner: a tragic tale of redemption, like no other…

MET Opera House building–Lincoln Center/Monday March 2nd, 2020.

This week friends, welcome back, to a very different kind of evening, yet, once again, at the MET Opera, to (re)discover a dark tale, from the opera repertoire; stormy, obsessive, cursed; and ultimately, tragic; about the powerful fascination, an obsessive “romantic love” tale can provoke; by Wagner; one of his earliest, shortest, supernatural operatic creations, for which, he also wrote, the libretto.

How about that!


In addition, this was/ is a new production for the MET Opera, and Monday was opening night, and particularly elegant!


Of course, new productions always attract wonderful talent, and what an amazing Girard production it was/ is, and what a tremendous cast!

Girard’s modern, solemn, inspired, awesome take on the story, is incredibly evocative, imaginative and poetic, to capture the complexities of this beautiful, intense, and dark plot.

Let’s take a look, at an excerpt of rehearsal:

Isn’t it just wonderfully imaginative and lively?

I loved it!

And Russian maestro extraordinaire, Valery Gergiev, conducted last Monday, with subtlety, the intense score; and I especially enjoyed three singers: Russian bass-baritone Evgeny Nikitin, in the title role, was simply magnificent; mesmerizing, mystical and mysterious; German soprano Anja Kampe, herself was incredibly moving, as the transfixed, obsessed, robust, sentimental, compassionate, and, way too bent on self sacrifice, youthful Senta; and way too idealistic, to prove her point, this young Senta; who should know better; who should know, of course, that true love, does not ever, ask to self sacrifice; true love, only bestows respect, joy, and warmth for oneself and others; and finally, American tenor David Portilo, as the romantic “steersman”, devoted to his beloved, and leaning on his love for her, to stay awake at his post, was particularly, enchanting.

Wagner was still young (30 years old), when he wrote this operatic masterpiece (called in english “The Flying Dutchman”); one of his first operas, (which explains perhaps, also why, I like it less than later creations), and Wagner was still discovering, his musical and wording style; of equal importance, in his mind; and we can already hear/feel some of his “signature” upcoming “stylings”, such as “leitmotivs” described, right of the bat, in the “overture” of the opera, an 11 note “motif” for the main character “the Dutchman”, and a 16 note “motif” for “Senta”, the woman representing the idea of redemption.

Of course, the “overture”, is what he wrote last, and is incredibly powerful, depicting the forces of nature, the ocean’s huge storms in particular, as no other opera does, incredibly forcefully, and one of the passages of the opera, I like best, as it summarizes in my opinion, perfectly, the entire story; boldly, brilliantly and beautifully:

How about that!


Let’s listen:

Isn’t it awesome?

These” leitmotivs” would form a strong foundation for his later works, in particular, for “The Ring” he started working on, ten years later, and for his last masterpiece, “Parsifal” of course; but also, for another opera Wagner wrote, three years after this one, for “Tannhäuser”, whose overture, ladies and gentlemen, is also, one of the most beautiful opera overtures ever, in the world of opera; for me, at least!


Let’s listen also, just because:

Isn’t it spellbinding?

I must say, I way prefer “Tannhäuser” to “The Flying Dutchman”, which is too dark a story for me, even if based on an amazingly poetic legend; and “Tannhäuser”‘s melodies/motifs are always a true enchantment to my ears, and make up for the complexities of that story, as well.

Yet, let’s get back to our “Flying Dutchman” opera, for today.

What is our “Dutchman” about?

In a nutshell, Wagner was inspired by varied sources, for his “Dutchman”‘s plot: inspired obviously, by a famous 17th century legend, of an “enchanted”, cursed, “ghost” ship, near the Cape of Good Hope, who can never port; and who encounters all sorts of bad weather, and has been sailing, since time immemorial at sea; and is condemned, with his captain, to sail forever, until Judgment Day.

Oh boy!

And all that, because, his captain mocked his sailors, for being scared of this Cape’s strong weather, and was then, punished by God.

Oh boy!

Some of you, might know about this legend, thanks to Disney’ “Pirates of the Caribbean” fantasy swashbuckler films, launched in 2003.

Let’s watch a short excerpt:

Heine, the great 19th century German author, wrote also a play, about the famous legend, of this cursed ship, haunting the seas; in which he added, a key, new notion; affirming, that a good woman’s love, could redeem the captain of the ship.

Yay of course, to love!

But the captain, the captain needs only himself, in my mind, to redeem himself, of his “faults”, by developing loving acts, towards himself and towards others.

Just saying.

Love, in all its forms, would then keep flowing in his life, naturally and beautifully, if the captain had forgiven himself, for mocking his sailors, who were scared of the Cape’s bad weather; love in all its forms, would have then, I am quite sure, “poured” back into his life.


But let me get back, to other sources for Wagner’s opera:

Finally, Wagner was probably inspired as well, by some of his own difficult experiences sailing, in extremely bad weather, for longer periods than expected, in difficult personal circumstances.

And for his “Flying Dutchman” three act opera, Wagner, gives both, “the Dutchman” and “Senta” (the Dutchman’s possible redeeming partner), great “redeeming” roles, to both characters; which makes the story even more beautiful, in my mind, despite the fact that it ends, tragically.

How about that!

So what is “The Flying Dutchman” about?

To me, it is a cautionary tale, about the importance of rising above all difficulties, at all times, and this, having to be done generally, mostly by taking responsibility ourselves, for our lives; by doing the right thing in life, for ourselves and others; which should allow for win win solutions, and thus, not only help overcome obstacles, but also help, in growing stronger and wiser.


Let me quickly summarize, the main elements of each act, to give you more context:

In Act I, as a ship has been driven miles away from his home, while the crew is resting, a young steersman, sings about his beloved, to stay awake.

Let’s listen to this charming passage from the first act, which is the most beautiful in my opinion, in this first act.

Near the ship, which belongs to a man, called Daland, we discover, a wandering “stranger” (a familiar theme, the theme of a “stranger”, just like the “redeeming” theme which Wagner will go back to often, in many of his following works as well, especially in “The Ring”); and this wandering “stranger” tells the story of his “curse”, first to the audience, and then, to Daland, when he meets him, and introduces himself, as “the Dutchman”.

Here is the story of the “curse”: once every seven years, “the Dutchman” may leave his “cursed” ship, to find a wife; whose goodness, will redeem him from his unending wandering. If he doesn’t find a wife, he will be condemned to sail the ocean, until Judgment Day.

Oh boy!

And upon hearing, that Daland has a daughter, “the Dutchman”, offers Daland, not only, gold and jewels, for a night’s lodging, but also, to marry Daland’s daughter.

Oh boy!

Let’s listen to a short excerpt of “the Dutchman”‘s plight.

Doesn’t it evoke “the Dutchman”‘s plight perfectly?

Daland, being greedy, quickly agrees to “the Dutchman’s” “offer”, and sets sail for home.

Oh boy!

By Act II, we are introduced to Senta; Daland’s youthful daughter, overly idealistic, and definitely way too bent on self sacrifice; who seems obsessed, transfixed even, by a painting of a pale man ” the Dutchman”, she longs to save.

Oh boy!

Let’s now, listen to Senta’s famous ballad, about the “Dutchman”‘s plight, I must say, I particularly admire this version, from a few years back, which is wonderfully subtle, in its delivery.


Isn’t it moving?

And we can feel, how transfixed, youthful, idealistic, and self-sacrificing, Senta is, by “The Dutchman”, even though she is promised to a “suitor”, Erik, who adores her, and tells her, of a frightening dream he has had, of losing her, to “the Dutchman”.

Oh boy!

As Daland and “the Dutchman” appear, we immediately see, how moved Senta is, by this stranger, and he, by her; and quickly, without giving enough thought, to this important decision, for her future, young Senta accepts the offer, of becoming “the Dutchman’s” wife; oh boy!

Daland is of course overjoyed!

Oh boy!

By Act III, as the village celebrates the sailors return, suddenly, otherworldly, ghastly, ghostly apparitions, show up, scaring the entire village; oh boy; the villagers flee then, quickly.

And this is where “The Dutchman’s” truly redeeming, noble qualities, finally shine through; he understands immediately, that the “curse” is only his, to bear; not Senta’s; and tells Senta he wants her, to escape his “unending sailing” fate, and she still can, as she has not yet, proclaimed her vows, in front of God; and he then, unveils to her, his true identity, as The “cursed Dutchman”.


How incredibly courageous and how noble of him!

To me, this ultimate act of generosity from “the Dutchman”, redeems him entirely, our heroic “Dutchman”, from his past faults, at Cape of Good Hope, and I am not surprised. What unnerves me more, is the unnecessary self-sacrifice of Senta, giving up on living, to only prove, a moot point.

But then again, I am not Wagner, of course.

In my mind, Senta should have graciously accepted, this new heroic offer from “the Dutchman”; and then, all, would have ended well, for everyone, which as we know, rarely happens, in Wagner’s various operas.

But it could!


And perhaps, it is too joyful, but I am all for, joyful outcomes, for these characters, just as this following piece of classical music, for me, embodies wonderful simple joy, which often, is one the best feelings to share, with all who matter; Debussy celebrating here, and why not? “mermaids”, which I am sure was inspired by Wagner’s own capacity for joy, and love of uplifting symbols, and Wagner’s own personal affection for these joyful creatures, of course!


Let’s listen and dream:

Isn’t it charming and lovely?

And so inspiring in terms of spreading joy to all!


Til next week!







Eternal butterflies 😊