Moon is leering gloomily at times throughout the salty, spicy, chilly fog. Wind is getting stronger and the waves are washing the deck. Its rays slide on contours of the ship and then silently get drowned in the raging sea. Close – uncomfortably close – they seem to meet a silhouette darker than night itself. High wooden vessel appears to be heavier than storm and stronger than wind. It cruises slowly just a couple of meters away, facing the waves firmly as a rock. It has no lights: and no one can be seen. Just a Presence can be felt, that makes the fog even colder – and a deep murmur – as if a thousand cellos that never have been tuned played their most sombre tune. The whole lasts just a couple of long seconds: then, the vessel gets dissolved in the fog: the murmur descends gradually, and just the terror and the chilly fog remain. The Flying Dutchman cruises ahead through the storm.
Der fliegende Holländer is often the first Wagner opera newbies are introduced to: relatively short (think The Ring that set together lasts 18 hours, or a standalone Meistersinger which is 5 hours and a quarter), exciting story, its numbers are pretty distinct (some can be even called arias), popular tunes (check the overture, if no one comes to your mind at the moment: I guarantee you, you’ve seen at least 5 commercials where Holländer tunes were featured). I have to say, it remains my favourite together with Tannhäuser. I like the music and the story. I like the tenebrous character of the Dutchman and passionately loving Senta. The other characters are just sketched but with incredible precision: we all know Daland type of father and countless Erik-ish fiancés. Holländer has magic and destiny, tension and extreme emotions. It is just scary and complex like a good story has to be – and just like a good opera has to be. Dense, rich texture of Wagner music in a reasonable amount shouldn’t be too much even for an inexperienced listener – of course I optimistically take for granted that this handful of singers needed meet the expectations set and the conductor has an idea what to do with the score and baton (and I don’t mean “wave until they finish”), hopefully has also a minimum idea about Wagner style.
The legend about The Flying Dutchman is present in European culture at least since 18th century and was particularly popular during the Romantic era. Richard Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer was premiered 173 years ago in Dresden.
Being the last sentence of the second paragraph not entirely true for the performances of the Holländer I saw live, let me share with you a couple of youtube treasures from the past century. Enjoy Dutchman’s entrance and Senta’s ballad together with Joel Berglund and Birgit Nilsson. The overture I linked is led by Arturo Toscanini.
Die Frist ist um
Traft ihr das Schiff