Libretto by the composer
World premiere: Dresden, Court Theater – January 2, 1843
A violent storm has driven Daland’s ship several miles from his home on the Norwegian coast. Sending his crew off to rest, he leaves the watch in charge of a young steersman, who falls asleep as he sings a ballad about his girl (“Mit Gewitter und Sturm”). A ghostly schooner drops anchor next to Daland’s ship. Its captain steps ashore and, with increasing despair, reflects on his fate (“Die Frist ist um”): Once every seven years he may leave his ship to find a wife. If she is faithful, she will redeem him from his deathless wandering. If not, he is condemned to sail the ocean until Judgment Day. When Daland discovers the phantom ship, the stranger, who introduces himself as “a Dutchman,” tells him of his plight and offers gold and jewels for a night’s lodging. When he learns that Daland has a daughter, the Dutchman asks for her hand in marriage. Happy to have found a rich son-in-law, Daland agrees and sets sail for home.
Daland’s young daughter, Senta, is captivated by the portrait of a pale man in black—the Flying Dutchman—while her friends sit spinning under the watchful eye of Mary, Senta’s nurse. The girls tease Senta about her suitor, Erik, who is not a sailor but a hunter. When the superstitious Mary refuses to sing a ballad about the Dutchman, Senta sings it herself (“Traft ihr das Schiff im Meere an”). The song reveals that the Dutchman’s curse was put on him for a blasphemous oath. To Mary and the girls’ horror, Senta suddenly declares that she will be the one to save him. Erik enters with news of the sailors’ return, and Mary and the others hurry off. Erik reminds Senta of her father’s intention to find her a husband and asks her to plead his cause, but she remains distant (“Mein Herz, voll Treue bis zum Sterben”). Realizing how much the Dutchman’s picture means to her, he tells her of a frightening dream in which he saw her passionately embrace the Dutchman and sail away on his ship. Senta exclaims that this is what she must do, and the despairing Erik rushes away. A moment later, the Dutchman enters. Senta stands transfixed. Daland quickly follows and asks his daughter to welcome the stranger, whom he has brought to be her husband (“Mögst du, mein Kind”). After he has left, the Dutchman, who is equally moved by the meeting, asks Senta if she will accept him as her husband (Duet: “Wie aus der Ferne”). Unaware that she realizes who he is, he warns her of making a rash decision, but she ecstatically vows to be faithful to him unto death. Daland returns and is overjoyed to learn that his daughter has accepted the suitor.
At the harbor, the villagers celebrate the sailors’ return with singing and dancing (Chorus: “Steuermann, lass die Wacht!”). Perplexed by the strange silence aboard the Dutchman’s ship, they call out to the crew, inviting them to join the festivities. Suddenly the ghostly sailors appear, mocking their captain’s quest in hollow chanting. The villagers run away in terror. Quiet returns and Senta enters, followed by the distressed Erik. He pleads with her not to marry the Dutchman, insisting that she has already pledged her love to him (“Willst jenes Tag’s”). The Dutchman, who has overheard them, loses all hope of salvation and goes toward his ship. Senta tries to stop him but he explains that since she has not yet proclaimed her vows before God, she will escape eternal damnation—the fate of those who betray him. His crew prepares to cast off and he declares that he is the Flying Dutchman of legend. Senta ecstatically replies that she knows who he is. As the ship pulls away, she throws herself into the sea, crying that she is faithful unto death.
© 2014 The Metropolitan Opera