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8.110189-90 - WAGNER, R.: Fliegende Holländer (Der) (Hotter, Varnay) (1950)

Richard Wagner (1813-1883): Der fliegende Holländer

Richard Wagner (1813-1883): Der fliegende Holländer

A Romantische Oper in three acts, to the composer’s own libretto, based on Heinrich Heine’s Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski

The tempestuous opening bars of the overture to Der fliegende Holländer throw us immediately into the passionate story of love, anguish and self-sacrifice that is to be played out in this, the first opera of Wagner’s musical maturity. Der fliegende Holländer was composed largely in Paris, during an unhappy, impoverished period of the composer’s life, but the triumph in Dresden of Rienzi, Wagner’s immediately preceding opera, in October 1842 must have been influential in securing the first production, in the same theatre, of this supernatural nautical tale.

Following the somewhat muted success of the première of Der fliegende Holländer, which he himself conducted, Wagner spent time revising the opera, though he had already considerably adapted his original score before it was even staged. His initial conception was to present Der fliegende Holländer in one unbroken act, but shortly before the opening he reworked this into three separate acts, in which form it was customarily produced during the nineteenth century. More recently, many directors and conductors have returned to Wagner’s first ideas and given the opera without any break; both are now regularly produced, the present recording being the three-act version.

Among Wagner’s stage works, Der fliegende Holländer is the first great bridge between the Romantic operas of Weber, of whom he was an avid admirer, and his own Music Dramas, notably Tristan und Isolde and Der Ring des Nibelungen. Tellingly, it reveals his developing use of the leitmotif, in depicting characters, emotions and situations, which would be so significant in the creation of those later works. The most potent leitmotif, which returns repeatedly during the overture, is that of the Dutchman himself, who is fated to sail the seas until redeemed by the love of a faithful woman. Senta will herself make that sacrifice, and she relates the Dutchman’s haunting tale in her great second act ballad; at the climax of the third act she throws herself into the sea, finally to be seen embracing the Dutchman as his ship sinks beneath the merciless waves.

Der fliegende Holländer was the first of Wagner’s operas to be presented in London, at Drury Lane Theatre in 1870, and was seen at Covent Garden seven years later. Its first American production was in 1876 in Philadelphia, reaching the Metropolitan Opera, New York, when it opened the 1889 season. The new 1950 production, at a later performance of which this recording was made, opened on the second night of Rudolf Bing’s first season as the Met’s general manager and was the occasion of two notable house débuts, those of Hotter and Nilsson, and two rôle débuts there, those of Varnay and Svanholm.

In his autobiography 5000 Nights at the Opera Bing recalls that the Bulgarian soprano Ljuba Welitsch was his first choice for Senta, but she was unable to accept the opportunity; indeed, she never sang the rôle at the Met. Fortunately Astrid Varnay, who had earned such an excellent reputation since her first appearance there in 1941, was available and on this live recording conveys all the passion and commitment that a convincing Senta requires. Hans Hotter displays the nobility of the tortured Dutchman’s soul, unusual, and the more welcome, in his keen observance of the score’s detail. Svanholm is choice casting in a rôle that is often avoided by the world’s top heldentenors (Melchior, for example, never sang it on stage at all) and is splendidly forthright and focused; and Nilsson, lighter of timbre than many a Daland, contributes most effectively to this stellar gathering which, under the vivid direction of Fritz Reiner, is undeniably among the finest ever to have committed the opera to disc.

Der fliegende Holländer was first performed on 2nd January 1843 at the Königliches Sächsisches Hoftheater in Dresden.

Hans Hotter was the supreme Wagnerian bass-baritone of his generation, and also sang rôles by Mozart, Mussorgsky and Verdi. Born in Offenbach am Main in 1909, he studied in Munich, giving his first concert there in 1929. After his 1930 operatic début in Troppau, he sang in Prague, Hamburg and, most famously, Munich, where he remained for 35 years. Hotter appeared in two Strauss premières, Friedenstag in 1938, and Capriccio in 1942, the year he also first sang in Salzburg. In 1947 he was at Covent Garden with the Wiener Staatsoper, returning for eighteen seasons singing rôles including Wotan and Hans Sachs; Hotter appeared at the Met from 1950 to 1954 and first sang at Bayreuth in 1952. Long accomplished also as a lieder singer, he has more recently participated in performances of Lulu and Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder with continuing success.

Astrid Varnay was born in Stockholm in 1918; at an early age she moved with her parents to the United States, where she later studied singing. Varnay sang at Brooklyn Academy in 1937, but her sensational first Metropolitan performance, as Sieglinde (Naxos 8.110058-60), was in 1941; she appeared there during nineteen seasons, principally in Wagnerian rôles, including six performances as Senta. Varnay later sang in Chicago, San Francisco and South America and appeared in sixteen consecutive Bayreuth seasons, where she was Senta in 1955-6 and 1959. Varnay first sang at Covent Garden in 1948 and thereafter in many European cities, including Florence, Paris, Vienna and Milan; considered the most dramatically intense Isolde and Brünnhilde of her generation, she was a fine Lady Macbeth, Elektra, Marschallin and, later, Klytemnestra. In retirement Varnay moved to Munich, where she still lives.

Born in Västerås, Sweden in 1904, Set Svanholm originally trained as an organist and made his baritone début at the age of 25; his début as a tenor was in 1936, as Radames in Aïda, but he excelled in Wagner, particularly as Lohengrin, Parsifal, Siegmund and Tristan. Appearances in London, Salzburg, Berlin, Vienna, Bayreuth and La Scala preceded Svanholm’s 1946 début at the Met, where he sang for ten seasons; he appeared at Covent Garden from 1948 until 1957, displaying his robust, focused tenor to superb effect. In 1956 Svanholm was appointed director of the Royal Opera in Stockholm; he died in Sweden in 1964.

Sven Nilsson, too, was born in Sweden, in 1898; he studied in Stockholm, making his operatic début in 1930. As member of the Dresden Staatsoper (1930-1944), he sang at Covent Garden in 1936 and in the première of Strauss’s Daphne in 1938; he also appeared in Amsterdam, Brussels, Milan and Drottningholm. In 1946 Nilsson returned to Stockholm, singing there until his death in 1970. Nilsson assumed principally Wagnerian rôles, notably Daland, which he performed during his only Met season, Pogner and Gurnemanz; and also Sarastro, Osmin and Ochs.

Fritz Reiner, born in Budapest in 1888, studied under Bartók. He was Dresden Staatsoper’s musical director from 1914 to 1922, subsequently taking charge of the Cincinnati Symphony. From 1931 Reiner taught at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and was Director of the Pittsburgh Symphony from 1938 to 1948, scheduling performances at Covent Garden, La Scala, Vienna and South America into his energetic career. He later conducted at the Met and in Chicago, remembered for his wide musical interests, but principally for interpretations of the Romantics, Wagner, Strauss and twentieth century composers. Reiner died in New York in 1963.

Paul Campion

CD 1

[1] The Overture to The Flying Dutchman, with its story of the legendary haunted Dutchman, condemned for his blasphemy to sail the seas in his ghostly ship until redeemed by true love, sets the scene of what the composer described as a storm-swept ballad. Leit-motifs, themes or fragments of themes, appear and re-appear, dominated by the horn-call associated with the Dutchman and the rushing strings of the sea and wind. Another theme that appears in the Overture is associated with Senta, the girl who loves the Dutchman and dies for him, as he sails away in apparent disappointment at what he believes to be her betrayal. Her ultimate sacrifice, when she leaps into the sea to her death, brings him final redemption.

Act I

[2] No. 1. Introduction

The scene is a Norwegian fjord, its steep cliffs rising on each side. The sky is dark and a storm is blowing. Daland’s ship has taken shelter, the anchor is cast and his sailors are busy seeing to the sails and hawsers. Daland has stepped ashore and from a rocky promontory takes his bearings. The shouts of the sailors echo from the fjord cliffs, while fragments of the theme associated with the sailors mingle with the rushing scales of the storm motif. Daland descends, satisfied that they are now only seven miles from port (Kein Zweifel! Sieben Meilen fort). The helmsman shouts to him that they have found firm anchorage. Daland has seen his own house and hopes soon to hold his daughter Senta in his arms, if it were not for the storm, but those who put their trust in the wind, trust the mercy of Satan. The storm abates, and he tells the sailors to rest below, leaving the helmsman on watch and going to his own cabin.

[3] The helmsman, left alone on deck, makes his rounds and then settles himself again at the helm. He yawns, then shakes himself, anxious to keep awake. He sings a simple sailor’s song of the girl he has left behind and who awaits his return (Mit Gewitter und Sturm). A great wave shakes the ship and the helmsman stands, looking to see if any damage has been done. He then resumes his place and his song, about how he has thought of his girl when faraway and now brings her presents from far Moorish lands. He still struggles to keep awake, but eventually gives in. The sea grows rougher, the sky darkens and the storm threatens again, the rush of the wind heard in the orchestra. In the distance The Flying Dutchman appears, with its blood-red sails and black masts, the Dutchman motif heard from the French horns and bassoons. It gradually draws near the Norwegian ship, and with a terrifying sound anchors by the side of the Norwegians. The helmsman rouses himself, but seeing all is well with the ship softly resumes his song, before failing asleep again. The ghostly crew of The Flying Dutchman take in the sails, and the Dutchman, dressed in black, in Spanish fashion, steps ashore.

[4] No. 2. Aria

The appointed time has come (Die Frist ist um), the Dutchman sings, since seven years have now passed, as he slowly takes step after step on dry land again. Yet soon he will have to be at sea once more, in weary sadness condemned to sail for ever. The music becomes more agitated as the Dutchman laments his weary fate, condemned to live, never to find the release of death, as he would wish.

[5] The Dutchman continues in calmer tones, seeking a sign from the angel of God that his torment may come to an end. Angrily he rejects the idea, an idle hope. Yet one chance remains for him, the day of judgement, when the dead rise and he can find oblivion. He ends his bitter plaint, and stands stock-still, then steps again on board, while the crew, from below, echo his words.

[6] No. 3. Scene, Duet and Chorus

Daland comes out of his cabin, sees how the wind blows and then notices the strange ship alongside. He calls the helmsman (He! Holla! Steuermann!), reproaching him for his carelessness. The latter, half asleep, begins his song again, and then, pulling himself together, hails the strange ship (Wer da?). There is a long pause, as the sound echoes from the cliff walls. Daland and the helmsman continue to hail the other ship. The Dutchman raises his head and in reply tells Daland that he has come from afar, a Dutchman, and his ship is sound.

[7] He goes on to explain that he has sailed in search of his homeland, without success (Durch Sturm und bösen Wind verschlagen): he accepts with gladness Daland’s invitation to rest at his house and will reward him with the riches that The Flying Dutchman carries. He gives a sign to the watch on ship and two sailors carry ashore a chest of treasure, full of pearls and costly jewels, to Daland’s amazement. The Dutchman will give Daland everything, if he will give him a home, his daughter to wed.

[8] Daland is surprised and delighted at the suggestion (Wie? Hört’ich recht? Meine Tochter sein Weib?). Daland and the Dutchman continue their own trains of thought, the former eager to seize this chance, and the latter seeing now some hope of redemption. Daland gives his consent to the match, promising the Dutchman the hand of his daughter and telling him that they will soon be home with the next fair wind. Now the Dutchman has hope of redemption, while Daland is happy with the lucky chance that has brought the Dutchman to these shores.

[9] The helmsman shouts, welcoming the wind that will take them home (Südwind! Südwind!) The sky has grown brighter, and the sailors wave their caps for joy. Daland assures the Dutchman that they will soon be home, and boarding his ship bids his crew be about their business.

[10] The Norwegian sailors now sing the helmsman’s song (Mit Gewitter und Sturm). As the Dutchman prepares also to set sail, the curtain falls.

Act II

[11] Introduction. No. 4. Scene, Song and Ballade

A brief introduction leads to the second act. The scene is set in a large room in Daland’s house. On the wall are sea-pictures and charts, and on the back wall a portrait of a pale man with a black beard, dressed in black, in Spanish fashion. Mary and the girls are sitting by the chimney-piece spinning. Senta, in a grandfather-chair, is leaning back, dreamily contemplating the picture on the back wall. The girls sing a spinning-song (Summ und brumm).

[12] Mary urges the girls to work, and reproaches Senta, wasting her young life with a picture. Senta feels pity for the man in the portrait, to the mockery of the other girls, whom she bids be quiet. They resume their spinning-song, but Senta is tired of it and asks Mary to sing them a ballad. Mary refuses and carries on spinning, while the others pause in their work, to listen to Senta, who will sing the ballad herself.

[13] Ballade

Senta opens her song with the motif of the Dutchman (Johohoe! Johohohoe!), singing of the ship with blood-red sails and black masts, captained by a pale man, who can find no redemption, until he meets one who will love him truly unto death. At the end of the first verse Senta turns again to the picture, the girls listen and Mary pauses in her spinning. The girls join in the second verse, echoing the refrain, the wish that the pale man might find release in a true wife. Senta continues her song with greater feeling, telling how every seven years the man may land, to seek redemption, but only meets with falsehood and betrayal. Senta sinks back in her chair, while the girls express their wish for mercy for the haunted man. Suddenly Senta rises again from her seat, certain that she will be the one to bring redemption. Mary and the girls are alarmed and gather round her.

[14] Erik, a huntsman, has overheard this outburst and now comes in, demanding whether Senta will destroy him (Senta! Senta! Willst du mich verderben?). The girls seek Erik’s help with Senta, and Mary declares that the portrait will be taken down as soon as Daland comes home. At this Senta seems to come to herself again, pleased to hear that her father will soon be home, as Erik now assures her. Mary fusses about, preparing for Daland’s return, while the girls are equally excited: the men will be home with empty stomachs, and they must set to work to welcome them again. Mary bustles out, urging the girls to their several duties.

[15] No. 5. Duet

Senta is about to follow them, but Erik holds her back (Bleib, Senta!), asking her to stay for a moment. He declares his love again, but is anxious that Daland will bring Senta a husband, as he has wanted. Senta tells him to be quiet and let her prepare to welcome her father. She asks why Erik doubts her, but he tells her that Daland is eager for riches, looking for a rich husband for her, and he is worried about Senta’s fascination with the portrait. She takes his hand and leads him in front of the picture, trying to make him share her pity for the man portrayed there.

CD 2

[1] Erik, though, is aghast. Her words confirm a dream he has had. Senta seems almost in a trance, as Erik tells his dream. He lay on a high promontory dreaming, while the sound of the waves breaking below came to him: a strange ship sailed near to land, with two men, one Daland and the other with pale mien, the seafarer of the picture. Erik saw Senta come from the house to greet her father, only to fall at the feet of the other man. The two kissed, and then Erik saw them disappearing over the water. Senta rouses herself, now inspired again with certainty that the Dutchman has sought her out, while Erik is horror-struck that his dream may come true. She takes the picture from the wall and holds it to her breast, hoping that the poor seafarer may find salvation in the true love of a woman.

[2] No. 6. Finale: Aria, Duet and Terzetto

The door opens and there stand Daland and the Dutchman. Senta’s glance goes from the picture to the latter. She lets out a cry and stands rooted to the spot, without moving her eyes from the Dutchman. Daland stands by the door, seeming to wait for Senta to come to him. The Dutchman steps forward and then stops. Daland holds his arms out to Senta, who does not respond, even when the gesture is repeated. He shakes his head in wonder and now approaches Senta, asking why she does not greet him as usual (Mein Kind, du siehst mich auf der Schwelle). As Daland draws near, she seizes his hand, anxious to know who the stranger may be.

[3] Aria

Daland bids her welcome the stranger (Mögst du, mein Kind, den fremden Mann willkommen) and tells how their guest has wandered far and wide and won much treasure. Turning to the Dutchman, he asks whether he has exaggerated the virtues of his daughter. He tells Senta that the stranger is to be her husband, to be married the next day, showing her something of the treasure the Dutchman has brought. Senta continues to gaze at the Dutchman, who returns her gaze, apparently unaware of Daland’s words. The latter tells the Dutchman that Senta is as faithful as she is beautiful, and leaves the couple alone. They remain motionless, gazing one at the other.

[4] Duet

The Dutchman now seems to see in Senta an image that he had long known (Wie aus der Ferne längst vergang’ner Zeiten): this is the girl of whom he had dreamed. Senta wonders if she is dreaming, for this is the man whose fate she had long pitied. Still rapt in each other’s gaze, they stand, then move nearer.

[5] The Dutchman asks Senta if she is willing to obey her father (Wirst du des Vaters Wahl nicht scheiten?), telling her, as he draws nearer, that she can bring him peace. She declares her sympathy and pity for his sufferings, to his wonderment, an angel bringing him hope at last. They sink into each other’s arms, as Senta declares her faithfulness, welcomed by the Dutchman as balsam to his wounds. In Senta he will find a sure haven.


[6] Terzetto

Daland interrupts them with an apology (Verzeiht! Mein Volk hält draußen sich nicht mehr). Now they must celebrate their homecoming. Senta declares again her faithfulness to her future husband, who expresses his own joy in redemption, while Daland has his own reasons for satisfaction. They go out as the curtain fails.

[7] Entr’acte: Introduction

The music that introduces Act III includes motifs associated with the sailors and with the girls’ spinning-song, introduced by Senta’s motif of redemption.


[8] No. 7 Scene and Chorus

The scene is now an inlet, with Daland’s house in the foreground and the two ships lying side by side. It is a clear night and the Norwegian ship is lit up, the sailors making merry on deck. The Dutchman’s ship is in eerie contrast, in unnatural darkness and with the stillness of death about it. The Norwegian sailors, however, are happy, singing to celebrate their return (Steuermann, laß die Wacht!) and then dancing, as the girls come from the house, carrying baskets of food and drink. They call to the Dutchman’s ship, but there is no answer to their invitations.

[9] The sea around the ghostly ship begins to move and wind stirs the hawsers, and a blue light seems to glow around the vessel, seeming to bring the hitherto unseen crew to life. They sing the Dutchman motif (Johohoe! Johohohoe!), ominously suggesting that soon they must to sea again, as redemption of true love will again have eluded their captain. The Norwegian sailors are frightened at what they see, with the sea and growing storm turbulent round the strange ship, but calm about their own, and seek to dispel this ghostly apparition by their own song, sung ever louder. The mournful song of the ghostly crew predominates, and the Norwegian sailors fall silent, the sign of the cross only bringing a peal of spectral laughter.

[10] No. 8 Finale

Senta hurries from the house, followed by Erik in the greatest agitation, appalled by what has happened (Was mußt’ ich hören?). Senta bids him not ask, for she can give no answer. Erik declares her bewitched, how otherwise could she break his heart, but Senta has now a higher loyalty and duty, although she once pledged her faith to him, Erik declares.

[11] Cavatina

Erik reminds Senta of their past happiness together (Willst jenes Tags du nicht mehr dich entsinnen?), seeking an assurance again of her love, which he claims she once gave him.

[12] The Dutchman has witnessed the scene and now thinks himself yet again betrayed (Verloren! Ach, verloren!). He bids Senta farewell, as she throws herself in his path, for he will not destroy her happiness, while Erik, who has drawn back, observes the scene in horror. The Dutchman gives a sign to his men with his bo’sun’s pipe, commanding sails up and anchor away, a farewell now for ever to land and salvation. Senta pleads her faithfulness, urging the Dutchman to stay, as Erik looks on with increasing dismay.

[13] From his ship the Dutchman declares his fate (Erfahre das Geschick), damned for ever unless he can be redeemed by the love of a faithful woman, true to him till death. Erik calls to the house and ship for help, but for Senta the identity of the Dutchman and his fate have long been known (Wohl kenn ich dich). Daland, the girls from the house, with Mary, and the sailors from the ship hurry in answer to Erik’s shouts. The Dutchman now tells Senta she does not know him (Du kennst mich nicht), revealing himself now openly as the Flying Dutchman. There are flashes of lightning as his ship sets sail, in a moment at sea. Senta rushes towards the departing ship, but is held back by Daland, Erik and Mary. The ghostly crew are heard again, and Senta, breaking away from those that hold her, runs to the height of a rocky headland, again pledging her faith to the Dutchman, as she casts herself into the sea. At the same moment the ghostly ship sinks with all its crew, the sea closing over it. In the red glow of the rising sun there appear over the sea the images of Senta and the Dutchman, in each other’s arms, striving upwards from the sea, as the sound of the redemption motif is heard.


Keith Anderson

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