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Work of the Week – Richard Wagner: The Flying Dutchman

On 20 October, Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman (“Der Fliegende Holländer”) will celebrate its opening night at the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp, Belgium. Directed by Tatjana Gürbacas and conducted by Cornelius Meister and Philipp Pointer, the production will run until 4 November, followed by performances in Gent until the 22 November. This production is the first to use material for The Flying Dutchman from the Richard Wagner Complete Edition.

First completed in 1841 as a “Romantic Opera in One Act and Three Scenes”, The Flying Dutchman went through a tale of constant revision. Even before the Dresden premiere (2 January 1843) Wagner undertook fundamental alterations. He transposed the location from Scotland to Norway, changed characters’ names as appropriate, divided the opera into three acts, and transposed Senta’s Ballad from A minor to G minor. It was this version of the opera that went to print in 1845. For a performance in 1860 he composed the later so-called ‘Tristan’ or ‘Redemption’ ending to the Overture. As with Wagner’s later opera Tannhäuser, to this day there is no definitive final version of The Flying Dutchman.

The Flying Dutchman – An eternal work in progress?


Despite claiming to have written the original version in just seven weeks, Wagner ultimately found The Flying Dutchman to be unendingly problematic, and the lack of a final version continues to fascinate Wagner scholars. The Wagner Complete Edition, however, rejects the concept and priority of the last available version, instead endeavouring to assemble all of Wagner’s multitudinous revisions as completely and accurately as possible. Despite Wagner’s difficulties with the work, it endures as one of his most popular operas today.

If I reach my aim [of approval] among merely a handful of individuals, that attainment will richly compensate me for all those who remain unconvinced; and cordially do I grasp the hands of those valiant artists who shall not feel shame to concern themselves with me, and more familiarly to befriend me, than is typical in our modern art world. – Richard Wagner

Because the Compete Edition consolidates all available source material and the most current developments of Wagnerian scholarship, it allows performers a deeper understanding of the composer’s processes and musical intentions. This new performance material is now available from Schott for any production of The Flying Dutchman.