The Flying Dutchman, Opera by R. Wagner

The Flying Dutchman, Opera by R. Wagner

Written and premiered before he had turned thirty, The Flying Dutchman was the work which confirmed Richard Wagner’s arrival on the world stage. He went on to become the giant of nineteenth century opera, writing almost exclusively for the genre.

Performed for the first time at the Semperoper in Dresden on 2 January 1843, with its composer conducting the orchestra, what strikes the listener is just how powerful yet tender The Flying Dutchman is. It is a work that provides a glimpse of Wagner’s evolving philosophy of music and its role in bringing the arts together to create a new dramatic form.

The story of how Wagner came to write The Flying Dutchman is more prosaic than one might think. Rather than imagining himself as the navigator condemned to roam the oceans until he finds the one woman prepared to die for him, Wagner recorded in his autobiographies that his inspiration was his own, somewhat perilous, sea voyage which he and his wife Minna undertook to reach England in order to escape his creditors in the summer of 1839.

Nonetheless, it is difficult not to feel that the opera expresses exactly how Wagner must have been feeling at the time: the Dutchman, the epitome of the tortured and defiant Romantic soul, railing against the odds; and Wagner, finding that his dreams of success in Paris, his next stop after London, have been laid to waste, alighting on the legend to secure his family’s future.

Now in performance at the Vienna State Opera, The Flying Dutchman provides an insight into the mind of one of the greatest composers of all time.


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