Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A little background on Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman"

The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Hollander)
Romantic Opera (Wagner's designation)

January 2, 1843 at Royal Saxon Court Theater, Dresden

1870 (in Italian), London
1876 (in Italian), Philadelphia
1877 (in Italian), New York City
Wagner sent a prose scenario (in French)  based on the legend of The Flying Dutchman and on Heinrich Heine's story (“The Memoirs of Mister Von Schnabelewopski”) to Giacomo Meyerbeer's librettist, Eugene Scribe, with the proposal that he turn it into the libretto of a one act opera which would serve as a curtain raiser to a larger ballet. The commission for said composition would naturally be awarded to Wagner. This, for various reasons, did not pan out.

Wagner sold the original scenario for 500 francs to the Paris Opera who then commissioned two librettists and the composer Pierre-Louis-Phillippe Dietsch to rework the piece. Paris Opera then produced Le Vaisseau Fanthome which set sail and promptly sank after 11 performances. Wagner, ever the dramatist of his own life, stated that he was forced to sell the scenario in order to rent the piano he needed to compose the opera.

In 1841 Wagner finished his first full version of The Flying Dutchman but his initial score was not performed in his lifetime (BLO's production is a rare chance to hear Wagner's original intention. Read this note from David Angus, BLO's Music Director and conductor of DUTCHMAN for a more in-depth look into the music of the 1841 Critical Edition).

A few weeks before the 1843 premiere in Dresden, the opera was still set off the Scottish coast (following Heine’s story), with Daland and Eric named Donald and Georg, respectively. BLO’s production uses the original nomenclature (but no kilts!). Originally written in three acts to be played without interruption, Wagner revised (and had published) the piece into the more conventional form of three distinct acts. He made revisions to the score in 1846, 1852, and again in 1860.

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