The Flying Dutchman (opera)

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Uncompleted Operas

Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) is an opera, with music and libretto by Richard Wagner.

Wagner claimed in his 1870 autobiography Mein Leben that he had been inspired to write "The Flying Dutchman" following a stormy sea crossing he made from Riga to London in July and August 1839, but in his 1843 Autobiographical Sketch Wagner acknowledged he had taken the story from Heinrich Heine's retelling of the legend in his 1834 satirical novel The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski (Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski).[1] The central theme is redemption through love.

Wagner conducted the premiere at the Semper Oper in Dresden, 1843. This work shows early attempts at operatic styles that would characterise his later music dramas. In Der fliegende Holländer Wagner uses a number of leitmotifs (literally, "leading motifs") associated with the characters and themes. The leitmotifs are all introduced in the overture, which begins with a well-known ocean or storm motif before moving into the Dutchman and Senta motifs.

Wagner originally wrote Der fliegende Holländer to be performed without intermission — an example of his efforts to break with tradition — and, while today's opera houses sometimes still follow this directive, it is also performed in a three act version.



By the beginning of 1839 Richard Wagner was employed as a conductor at the Court Theatre in Riga. His extravagant lifestyle and the retirement from the stage of his actress wife, Minna, meant that he ran up huge debts. Wagner was writing Rienzi and hatched a plan to flee his creditors in Riga, escape to Paris via London and make his fortune by putting Rienzi on to the stage of the Paris Opéra. However this plan quickly turned to disaster: his passport having been seized by the authorities on behalf of his creditors, he and Minna had to make a dangerous and illegal crossing over the Prussian border, during which Minna suffered a miscarriage.[2] Boarding the ship Thetis, whose captain had agreed to take them without passports, their sea journey was hindered by storms and high seas. The ship at one point took refuge in the Norwegian fjords at Tvedestrand, and a trip that was expected to take 8 days finally delivered Wagner to London 3 weeks after leaving Riga.

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