The Flying Dutchman

Synopsis

ACT I

A violent storm has blown a Norwegian fishing boat miles beyond home. Daland, the captain, tells his crew to rest out the storm and leaves the watch in charge of a young steersman, who falls asleep singing of his sweetheart. A red-sailed galleon suddenly appears and drops anchor. Its captain, alone on deck, ponders his fate. Cursed by the Devil when he vowed to sail around the Cape of Good Hope, he is doomed to sail the seas until he finds a woman who will be faithful to him till death. He is allowed to land only once every seven years to search for her, and unless he finds her he must continue his wandering forever. He is the Flying Dutchman. When Daland meets the Dutchman, he learns that the stranger is willing to pay a large portion of his treasure for a safe harbor, but he learns nothing about the Dutchman’s true identity. The Dutchman offers to marry Daland’s daughter and give him all his considerable wealth in return. Daland, shown some evidence of the Dutchman’s treasure, accepts the offer happily. Daland and his crew prepare to lead the Dutchman home, and the two boats leave on calmer waters.

ACT II

The legend of the Flying Dutchman is well known. A picture of him hangs on the wall in Daland’s house, where the women of the town sew with Daland’s daughter Senta and housekeeper Mary. The women sing of their boyfriends and tease Senta about her sweetheart, Erik. When Mary refuses to entertain the girls with a song telling the story of the wandering Dutchman, Senta sings the ballad instead, passionately declaring that she yearns to be the one to save him. Erik enters to announce that Daland’s ship has returned, and the women leave to welcome the sailors. Erik anxiously detains Senta, declares his love for her, and tells her he dreamt that she embraced the Flying Dutchman and sailed off with him. Senta is excited by this dream. Erik leaves in despair. Daland arrives with the Dutchman, and there is an immediate connection between Senta and the stranger. Daland encounters no resistance when he asks if Senta would marry his guest. When he leaves them alone, the lovers speak: the Dutchman hopes his living hell will end; Senta expresses her compassion for him and rapturously accepts him. Daland returns and rejoices in their obvious commitment.

ACT III

Daland’s boat and the Dutchman’s ship are docked at the quay. The Norwegian women bring food and drink to the Dutch ship. Despite their teasing calls, no one answers them. Frightened, they give the food to the Norwegian men instead. But sailors suddenly appear on the Dutch ship, singing of their demon-cursed captain, and the villagers leave, horrified, chased by derisive laughter from the Dutch crew. Senta runs to the quay followed by Erik, who is despondent that she has forsaken him for the stranger. The Dutchman overhears some of their quarrel and believes himself betrayed. He bitterly renounces salvation and orders his crew to set sail. Senta pleads with him to stay, but the Dutchman replies that she need not fear the eternal damnation of those who betray him, since she did not say her vows to him before God. As the Flying Dutchman’s ship sails away, Senta throws herself into the sea. The Dutch ship and crew vanish. Senta and the Dutchman meet in transfiguration: at last he will find rest.

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