Opera Scotland

Flying Dutchman Der fliegende Holländer

Music
Richard Wagner (born Leipzig, 2 March 1813; died Venice, 13 February 1883)

Text
The composer.

Source
Memoirs of Herr von Schnabelewopski by Heinrich Heine (1797-1856).

Premières
First performance: Dresden (Court Theatre), 2 January 1843.
First UK performance: London (Drury Lane), 23 July 1870.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Royal Edinburgh Theatre), 23 February 1877.
Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 27 January 1987.

Background
Wagner’s fourth opera is the earliest one to be regarded as a mature work and performed regularly. Preparation and composition took him several years, and he continued to tinker with it on and off for most of his life. The result is that there are several sections where the orchestration sounds more sophisticated, due to the development of later styles juxtaposed with the music he produced in 1840. Opinions also seem to divide between those who think the piece should be performed without an interval or in three distinct acts. Of perhaps less importance is the fact that the original intention was to locate the opera in Scotland, and it was transferred to Norway at quite a late stage. While much of the music for the principals is highly effective, the treatment of the chorus is particularly notable, with two groups of sailors, Daland’s crew and the Dutchman’s, contrasting effectively.

Characters
Daland, a Norwegian sea captain (bass)
Senta, his daughter (soprano)
Erik, a huntsman (tenor)
Mary, Senta’s nurse (contralto)
Daland’s Steersman (tenor)
The Dutchman (Baritone)

Plot Summary
The legend of the Dutchman involves a sea captain struggling to round the Cape of Good Hope in the teeth of a ferocious storm. He swears he will achieve this if it takes forever. The Devil takes him at his word and condemns him to sail on, coming ashore only once every seven years until he can find a woman whose love will redeem him.

The opera starts in a Norwegian fjord where Daland has brought his ship home from the storm. The Dutchman’s ship arrives, and Daland, attracted by his wealth, gives the Dutchman permission to visit his daughter, Senta. This girl is a dreamer already almost obsessed by the legend, and determined to save the Dutchman, and she loves him at first sight. He also falls for her immediately, but is made jealous when he realises that Senta already has an admirer, Erik. The Dutchman, believing himself betrayed yet again, leaves her and puts to sea. Senta escapes the clutches of Erik and her father, and hurls herself into the sea, thus bringing about the Dutchman’s redemption.

RECORDINGS

TELDEC (2 CDs) Sung in German Recorded 1955

Conductor: Joseph Keilberth
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra
Hermann Uhde (Dutchman), Astrid Varnay (Senta), Ludwig Weber (Daland).

This is an excellent, indeed classic, performance, notable for the dramatic conducting of Joseph Keilberth, whose value has become evident with the release of several of his Wagner recordings from this period. Hermann Uhde was particularly good as the Dutchman, bringing the part a visionary, haunted, quality, which is rather special. Varnay had a big, dramatic voice, ideal for Brunnhilde or Isolde, but still makes an effective Senta. Ludwig Weber, better known for comic roles such as Ochs, is still an effective Daland, and Josef Traxel makes an impact as the Steersman. As usual with live performances where there is a large chorus on stage, there is a fair amount of background noise, but that is easy to ignore.

DECCA (2 CDs) Sung in German Recorded 1976

Conductor: Georg Solti
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Norman Bailey (Dutchman), Janis Martin (Senta), Martti Talvela (Daland).

This recording was initially greeted with widespread disappointment, largely due to the fact that it was recorded at concert performances in Chicago, and therefore does not benefit (or perhaps suffer) from the spectacular recording presentation that Decca had previously given to Solti for his Wagner recordings. Never mind, this is still an excellent performance, with glorious sounds from chorus and orchestra. Norman Bailey was a superb performer of the Dutchman, as audiences at the Coliseum (1982) and in Scotland (1987) will surely remember. The excellent Finnish bass Martti Talvela was a great exponent of the major Wagner bass roles, and Janis Martin, little represented on record, gives a thoroughly sound performance. The two excellent tenors are Rene Kollo, indispensable in the heavy German repertoire, as Erik, and, as the Steersman, the sweet-voiced Viennese tenor Werner Krenn, who appeared many times with Scottish Opera in the 1970s in Don Giovanni and Fidelio.

TELDEC (2 CDs) Sung in German Recorded 2001

Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
Berlin Staatskapelle
Falk Struckmann (Dutchman), Jane Eaglen (Senta), Robert Holl (Daland).

Daniel Barenboim assembled a superb cast for his recording, with Struckmann and Holl being perhaps the leading exponents of their roles at the time. Jane Eaglen, a relative novice in the part of Senta, was an experienced Wagner singer (and Scottish audiences may remember her first Walkure Brunnhilde from 1991). The excellent subsidiary members of the cast include Peter Seiffert as Erik, Felicity Palmer as an unusually incisive Mary, and in his only Wagner role, Rolando Villazon as the Steersman

The Cast

Daland
 a Norwegian sea captain
Dutchman
 
Erik
 a huntsman
Mary
 Daland's housekeeper, once Senta's nurse
Senta
 Daland's daughter
Steersman
 

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