This Saturday at 1 pm, the Metropolitan Opera is airing Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman). It was Richard Wagner’s fourth full length opera, and his first considered masterpiece. This week’s He Sang/She Sang guest, author William Berger, calls the opera “Wagner’s first big hit.” And it’s fitting that the opera that helped to cement the controversial composer’s legacy deals with a familiar maritime tale — the legend of the Flying Dutchman. Wagner’s version retells the haunting story of an undead ship captain doomed to an endless journey across the seas. His wandering will not cease until he can find and keep a faithful and true love — an accomplishment put even further out of reach, considering he can only come ashore once every seven years.
Wagner was just 29 when he conducted the world premiere of Der Fliegende Holländer in Dresden. But as has his compositional skills continued to develop, he would revisit his earlier masterpiece several times for revisions. As Berger points out, Holländer is a great example of a work that indicates a vastly different creative period of the composer — while still bearing the unmistakable marks of that composer’s creativity. He makes a deft comparison to the creative trajectory of The Beatles, drawing a parallel between their earliest album and their later boundary-pushing output. Der Fliegende Holländer and Der Ring des Nibelungen, much like an early and later Beatles album, “are two different art forms and yet you can tell they’re the same people,” says Berger. “So The Flying Dutchman is Wagner at his best at a different point in his creative output than his other masterpieces.”
All that makes for a more satisfying listen, and a fascinating lens into the development of an artist.
Below, listen to the full He Sang/She Sang episode, featuring William Berger with host Merrin Lazyan.
Conductor: Yannick Nézet-Séguin
Senta: Amber Wagner
Mary: Dolora Zajick
Erik: AJ Glueckert
Steuermann: Ben Bliss
Holländer: Michael Volle
Daland: Franz-Josef Selig