Will true love triumph over the curse that holds one man’s soul hostage through eternity?
Will true love triumph over the curse that holds one man’s soul hostage through eternity? Glide along with Richard Wagner’s ghostly opus of greed, guts, and glory as Der fliegende Holländer makes a date with destiny at Arizona Opera. Conductor Joseph Rescigno and Director Bernard Uzan lead an all-star cast through the murky waters of romance and redemption.
The Flying Dutchman
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Music and text by Richard Wagner. Based on Heinrich Heine’s Memoirs of Herr von Schnabelewopski and Die Geschichte von dem Gespensterschiff (The Tale of the Ghost Ship) by Wilhelm Hauff.
Premiered: January 2, 1843 at the Hoftheater in Dresden, Germany
Setting: 1700s on the Norwegian Coastline
Sailing through icy Norwegian seas, Captain Daland’s ship is forced to take shelter in a cove seven miles short of its home port. The captain and crew are surprised as the seas suddenly grow rough and the sky darkens. A ghostly ship arrives in the cove. The captain of the ship, the Flying Dutchman, disembarks lamenting his cruel fate. After once vowing to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, even if it took forever, he was condemned by the Devil to sail the oceans for eternity. He is permitted, however, to leave the ship once every seven years to look for a wife who will vow to be faithful to him even to death. She would be his only salvation.
The Dutchman greets Captain Daland with a chest of jewels asking for a night’s lodging in exchange. He tells him the chest is only a small representation of what he has aboard his ship. He also asks Daland if he has a daughter. When the Dutchman finds that he does, he wastes no time in asking for the daughter’s hand in marriage. He offers Daland all the treasure on his ship in exchange. Daland agrees and promises Senta, his daughter, will be a faithful wife. The Dutchman then follows Daland to his home port.
Back at Daland’s home, the village women are busy spinning. They tease Senta about her preoccupation with the ghostly portrait of the Flying Dutchman. They can’t understand why she ignores her devoted suitor, Erik. She pays no attention and prays that she will be chosen to save the Dutchman from his wandering. After the women leave, Erik pleads with Senta to talk to her father about his worthiness to be her husband. He notices she is staring at the portrait and tells her of his dream in which she embraced the Dutchman and sailed away with him. Senta, believing this to be a sign, exclaims that this is her dream too. Erik leaves in despair. The next moment Daland appears with the Dutchmen. Senta recognizes him as he tells her of his sad story. She vows to be faithful to him to death. Daland, Senta and the Dutchman rejoice in the hope that true love brings.
The villagers are celebrating the sailors return at the harbor. They invite the sailors from a strange ship to join their festivities. As the rough waves surround the ship, they think that the sailors on board are dead. They all flee in terror. Senta rushes in pursued by Erik, who now knows of her intention to marry the Dutchman. Erik reminds her of the love she has vowed to him. On hearing this, the Dutchman believes he is betrayed again. As he attempts to board his ship, Senta again vows her love to him. As The Dutchman leaves, he declares his identity. Senta, held back by Erik and Daland, breaks free and runs to the top of a cliff. She declares her eternal love to the Dutchman as she throws herself into the ocean below. The Dutchman and his ship sink. As the sun rises, the Dutchman and Senta visible rising into the heavens.
|Stage Director||Bernard Uzan||n/a|
(1813 – 1883) Richard Wagner molded opera according to his own creative definition with revolutionary zeal. Consequently, his innovations in melodic structure, harmony, characterization and orchestration have inspired awe among audiences and music professionals alike for over a century. Impressionist and expressionist composers have spent most of this century struggling to overcome his influence, rebelling against him. Wagner was a man who lived in capital letters and bold print, a study in superlatives: huge creative canvases, legendary feuds and hatreds, gigantic depressions and losses, enormous successes, and passionate romantic liaisons. His music represents the dynamic and incandescent final flowering of romanticism.
Egocentric from childhood, Wagner began at age twenty to record details of his personal and creative life in a series of journals, all in anticipation of drafting an extensive autobiography in later life. He never seems to have doubted his destiny or his own titanic genius. At first, Wagner fancied himself a writer and planned a career in the literary world, drafting a ghoulish drama, Leubald which killed off forty-two characters in the first four acts, with some returning as ghosts in the fifth.
However, attendance at a performances of Weber’s Der Freischütz and Beethoven’s Fidelio turned his attention toward a lifelong obsession with operatic composition. With his mother’s encouragement, he undertook the serious study of music, an academic process peppered with bouts of drinking, dueling, and gambling. Wagner’s father, at least in name, was Karl Friedrich Wagner, a police court clerk who died while his son was in infancy. In recent years, evidence gathered would indicate that Wagner’s biological father was actually Ludwig Geyer, a talented painter, dramatist and actor. Geyer married Wagner’s mother shortly after she was widowed.
He introduced his love of literature, art and theater into the household. Although Geyer died while Wagner was only eight years old, the stepfather’s influence had an indelible effect on the boy.
Wagner’s earliest works, two orchestral overtures, were completed in 1829 and received scornfully. A spare six months of formal music education came from Theodor Weinlig, cantor of the Thomasschule, in 1831. Those studies culminated in the composition of a Wagner symphony which was well-received in Leipzig and Prague. He began work on an opera Die Hochzeit, and tossed it aside unfinished, then completed a full operatic work Die Feen, which was destined not to be performed until five years after the composer’s death.
He undertook a series of conducting posts with small, sordid operatic companies, and there built the instinct and skills which would forge his colossal vision of musical drama. In 1836, Wagner married Minna Planer, an impulsive act he almost instantly regretted. Although mediocre, the union lasted until 1862.
Wagner struggled to establish himself in opera in Paris, living on the verge of starvation, from time to time imprisoned for his debts. Minna took in boarders. His preliminary sketches of the operas Rienzi and Das Liebesverbot were rejected by producers despite introductory letters from Giacomo Meyerbeer. Wagner staggered briefly under the humiliation, then turned to a new concept, The Flying Dutchman, and although impoverished and unknown declared himself victorious at its completion in 1841. He was not far from wrong. La Rienzi opened in Dresden in 1842 to enormous acclaim. A triumph followed the next year for The Flying Dutchman, in the same city.
Wagner became Kapellmeister of the Dresden opera and should have realized financial security at last. However, he continued to live far in excess of his means, accumulating impossible debts. Within the five years which followed, he had completed Tannhauser, and Lohengrin. However, Lohengrin, which he considered his greatest effort to date was rejected by Dresden opera and, in anger, Wagner turned to revolution. He wrote handbills sympathetic to Dresden rioters who were creating a growing insurrection in the state of Saxony. When the revolution failed, Wagner was forced to flee to Paris.
During the thirteen years of Wagner’s exile, Lohengrin was presented in Weimar and was received tentatively just as Tannhauser had been. However, in the decade which followed both operas were embraced by German audiences. In fact, at the time his exile ended in 1860, Wagner was one of the few Germans who had never witnessed a performance of Lohengrin.
Years of high living had nearly bankrupted Wagner when, in 1864, the newly-crowned eighteen year old King Ludwig II became the composer’s devoted benefactor. Wagner produced Tristan and Isolde, Meistersinger, Das Rheingold, and Die Walküre, in the five years between 1865 and 1870. However, his enormous persuasive influence on King Ludwig placed Wagner at the mercy of warring political factions who demanded the composer’s allegiance. Wagner refused all of them categorically. His refusal to engage in intrigue, combined with his involvement in a scandalous affair with the married daughter of Franz Lizst, Cosima von Bulow, drove Wagner from Munich. Wagner had indulged in numerous romantic liaisons in the past. However, in this case he had fathered a child whom his betrayed friend, Cosima’s husband Hans von Bulow, graciously accepted as his own. Cosima and Wagner acknowledged von Bulow’s discretion by naming the girl Isolde.
Once more in exile, Wagner continued receiving financial support from King Ludwig at a retreat near Lucerne, Switzerland. And, when his legal wife, Minna, died in 1866, he at last married Cosima.
The final years of Wagner’s life were dedicated to completion of the gargantuan music project – The Ring – which was to combine all the noblest forms of Art in its presentation: innovative melodic structure, ambitious orchestration and instrumentation, intensely dramatic characterization and evocative sets. His concept was immense: an orchestral, vocal and theatrical portrayal of the legendary struggle between gods and men for control of the earth. This compelling mythological drama would be presented over consecutive days in a series of four sequential operas: Das Rheingold , Die Walküre , Siegfried , and Götterdämmerung.
And to that end, he also undertook the construction of his concept of the perfect operatic performance facility at Bayreuth. When the theater opened for the first full performance of The Ring cycle on August 13, 1876, the event was attended by the luminaries of the musical world including Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens, Gounod, Grieg, and Liszt. And Tchaikovsky noted, “Whether Wagner is right in pursuing his idea to the limit, or whether he stepped over the boundary of aesthetic conventions which can guarantee the durability of a work of art, whether musical art will progress further on the road started by Wagner, or whether the “Ring” is to be the point from which a reaction will set in remains to be seen. But in any case what happened in Bayreth will be well remembered by our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren.” And so it has been.
Wagner died suddenly of heart disease in 1883, having been seriously debilitated by his efforts at premiering his final work, Parsifal. He was buried in the garden of his home Wahnfried, at Bayreuth to the music of “Siegfried’s Death.”