The Flying Dutchman

Wagner and The Flying Dutchman

In his autobiography Mein Leben, Wagner wrote about his composition of The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer). With the passage of time, his telling took on some romantic overtones, but the facts are essentially as he described them.

He recounts his horrendous experiences on his voyage from Riga to London, recalling how the sailors on board the Thetis told him the story of the phantom ship. This is possible, for there were trip from Riga to London, recalling how the sailors on board the Thetis told him the story of the phantom ship. This is possible, for there were many such tales at the time. He probably already knew some of the stories and had undoubtedly read Heine's version for he wrote: was the conception of how this Ahaseurus of the ocean might be redeemed, which Heine had taken from a Dutch play on the same theme*, that gave me just what I needed to adapt the material as an operatic subject....The figure of the 'Flying Dutchman' is a mythic-poetic creation of the folk....We encounter the figure in the bright, cheerful Hellenic work in the guise of Odysseus and his wanderings, and his longing for homeland.

Certainly, as a man unused to the sea, his trials during that voyage made a deep impression on him and added color to his retelling of the tale. He also says that the Dutchman is a synthesis of the Wandering Jew and Odysseus and that Senta is no longer the domestic paragon that was Penelope but the woman of the future.

While in Paris in 1840, he wrote a scenario (in French) for a one-act opera (Le Hollandais volant), as a possible curtain-raiser for a ballet. The resulting story was, like Heine's, set on the Scottish coast and none of the characters had a name. He sent it to the famous French playwright and librettist Eugène Scribe in the hopes he would write a libretto based on the scenario but never received a response. He then asked the composer Meyerbeer to act as an intermediary in presenting it to the director of the Paris Opera. He claimed in Mein Leben that they eventually accepted it but insisted the music be written by someone else, giving him 500 francs for the rights (July 1841). This story has been challenged, but recent evidence has been found to show it is essentially true. He later claimed that a French opera, Le vaisseau fantôme, used his original scenario, but the story was much closer to other tales and the used the names of the characters of Sir Walter Scott's novel, The Pirate, which was well-known at the time. In the event, the French opera was a disaster. Meanwhile, he had already written a one-act, three scene, German version of the libretto (May 1841) in which he changed the locale from Scotland to Norway.

Wagner always considered himself an outsider and strongly identified with the Dutchman. He wrote:

Alas, I have lived for a long while in strange lands, and it often seems to me that in my fabulous homesickness I am like the Flying Dutchman and his shipmates, who are constantly tossed on the cold waves....I trust...the Flying Dutchman's fate will not be mine, to wit, his letters were usually addressed to persons at home who had died long since.**

He also wrote that his longing for Germany while in Paris was like: "the longing of my Flying Dutchman for a woman...the redeeming woman whose features I beheld as yet indistinctly".

Wagner sent the score of The Flying Dutchman to the Munich Court Theatre but was told that it was not suitable for Germany. It was finally accepted for production at the Berlin Court Opera, and he decided it was time to return to his home country. However, when Wagner arrived in Berlin he found the management had changed. Although the new director was the same man who had refused the opera for Munich, he was obliged to fulfil the commitments of his predecessor, and the Berlin opening was delayed so that the first performance could be in Dresden (January 2, 1843). It was hastily put together, using sets borrowed from three other operas and a ballet. It was not a success, lasting for only four performances, each with a smaller audience than the previous one. Except for the Senta of Schröder-Devrient, the cast was weak and even she was not at her best. She was distracted by personal love problems and learning music was difficult and time-consuming for her. Moreover, she could not stand to look at the fat stilted actor playing the Dutchman.

Performances in Kassel and Riga followed and the opera finally appeared in Berlin in 1844, with Wagner conducting. The audience was enthusiastic but the reviews were not kind.

The Flying Dutchman did not appear in Munich until 1864 as the first of the 'model' productions with 'modern' equipment which King Ludwig promised Wagner. The composer directed and conducted it, adding new stage directions and restoring cuts which had been made at other places. The Dutchman's ship first appeared as a small ship upstage and reappeared in a larger one downstage. However, the waves did not work properly and the apotheosis of Senta and the Dutchman was achieved with laughable model figures.

Wagner attempted further revisions but died before he could complete them. He later wrote that this opera was the true beginning of his career:

...that Flying Dutchman who arose so often from the swamps and billows of my life and drew me to him with such resistless might....From here begins my career as a poet, and my farewell to the mere concocter of opera texts....I was driven to strike out for myself as an artist, a path as yet not pointed me by any outward experience.

It is ironic that his first great opera, one of his most accessible and one most often performed today, was not a success in his lifetime.

*The play never existed. It was Heine's invention.

** The letters are a theme in many of the stories which is alluded to in Act III of The Flying Dutchman when the Norwegian sailors are trying to arouse those on the Dutchman's ship.

Habt ihr keine Breif', keine Auftag' für's Land? Unsren Urgrossvätern wir bringen's zur Hand!
(Have you no letters, no messages for the shore? We will hand them over to our great-grandfathers!)

Doomed to Wander

[Richard Wagner was always his own librettist. His operas were often based upon Nordic myths (The Ring of the Nibelung) or medieval legends (Tristan und Isolde, Parsifal). The following article traces possible sources for the story of the Flying Dutchman. - NMR]

The tales of those who offended the gods and were doomed to eternal punishment without the possiblity of death go back to the beginning of time. In many of them, the culprit was doomed to wander forever. Invariably they longed for death, but it constantly eluded their attempts to find it. In some cases redemption was possible, if difficult, to achieve. Such stories especially captured the imagination of superstitious sailors who spent most of their lives as tiny, lonely specks at the mercy of the vastness and might of the oceans.

Below are some of the most famous examples with brief descriptions. Clicking on the links will provice further information on some of them.

GREEK MYTHS (These stories appear in many different versions.)
From Greek mythology we have the story of Tantalus, a king of Phrygia, who stole nectar and ambrosia from the gods and tried to test their divinity by serving them the body of his own son, Pelops. The gods restored Polyps to life and condemned Tantalus to the Underworld where, for all eternity, he has to stand up to his waist in the water of a lake surrounded by luscious fruit. When he tries to drink, the water recedes and, when he reaches for fruit, it moves from his grasp. Thus he is forever tortured by thirst and hunger; he gave us the word "tantalize".

When the Titans revolted against Zeus, Atlas was doomed to stand forever bearing the vault of the heavens on his shoulders. Prometheus, who had been neutral during revolt but was resentful of the gods, created men from clay and brought them fire. An angry Zeus, swearing to annihilate the human race, bound Prometheus so that every day an eagle ate his liver, but every night it grew back only to be eaten once more. He continued to defy the gods of Olympus but was eventually rescued by Hercules and became an immortal.

Sisyphus defied the gods and revealed their secrets. As punishment he has to roll a huge rock up a hill. Every time he nears the top, it falls back and he must start again. As far as we know, he is still pushing.

We encounter a condemned wanderer in Callisto, a nymph who swore to always remain a maiden. There are many versions of how it happened, but she was somehow seduced. As punishment she was turned into a bear. When she died, she became the constellation Ursa Major (Big Bear), also known as the Big Dipper, going around the polar star for eternity and, in Mediterranean latitudes, never setting. Her resulting son became Ursa Minor or the Little Dipper.

Cain killed his brother Abel and, when questioned by God, said, "Am I my brother's keeper?" He was then doomed to wander the earth forever. The English poets, Coleridge and Wordsworth once planned to co-write a prose-poem based on the wanderings of Cain, but never completed it.

Homer's Odysseus was the first great sea-wanderer. All of the other Greeks heroes returned home safely from the Trojan War, but Odysseus gained the wrath of Poseidon by blinding one of his sons. He was forced to wander the seas and endure many trials, among which was his capture by Calypso. Finally, Athena begged Zeus to allow him to go home. Zeus agreed and sent Hermes to relay his order to Calypso. Just as Odysseus was sailing away, Poseidon saw him and raised a violent storm which wrecked his boat. Odysseus was saved by Athena but he still endured more wandering before he was finally allowed to return to his home kingdom of Ithaca and his faithful wife, Penelope.

The Wandering Jew and Kundry, his female counterpart, were featured in many medieval stories. While the Jew has to wait for Christ's return to cease his wandering, the sacred power of the Holy Grail finally allowed Kundry to die. Her story is told in Wagner's Parsifal.

There was a Dutch legend in which a murderer named Falkenberg was doomed to sail until judgment on a crewless ship while two spectral figures, one dark and one light, played at dice for his soul. This ship appears in Coleridge's (1797-98) tale of The Ancient Mariner, one of the earliest and best-known stories about a doomed ship. The sailor who shot the albatross was finally saved from what seems like eternal sailing but then has to wander the earth telling his story over and over again to those he meets on the way.

While the stories of spectral ships go back to the beginning of seafaring, the stories of those trying to round the Cape of Good Hope (at the tip of Africa) or Cape Horn (tip of South America) had to wait until the sixteenth century. In 1487 Batholomeu Dias reached the Cape of Good Hope but it wasn't until 1497 that Vasco da Gama finally rounded it and sailed into the Indian Ocean. In 1520, Magellan sailed through the straits named for him, but it remained for Sir Francis Drake to finally round Cape Horn in 1578.

Most stories involving the challenge of rounding the Cape of Good Hope probably began with the Dutch who, in 1602, founded the Dutch East India Company and dominated the trade with India. But it was during the period of Britain's naval supremacy that most of the stories appeared in print. By that time, all of the writers assumed that the readers already knew the basic story. In each, the protagonist somehow displeases either God himself or one of the spirits roaming the earth and sea, and is doomed to sail forever. Sometimes redemption is possible, if difficult. In almost every case, the doomed ship has the uncanny ability to sail with no wind and even against a powerful gale, often without any visible crew. Sometimes the ship and its spectral crew vanish before the eyes of the narrator. To all who encountered the phantom ship, especially near the Cape of Good Hope, it usually means death or at least ill-fortune.

In most cases, the Captain's name is Vanderdecken and there may actually have been a late seventeenth century Dutch captain of that name whose ship was lost as he tried to round the Cape of Good Hope from east to west. In any event, the fictional Vanderdecken swears to either God or the Devil that he will succeed in rounding the Cape if it takes him until eternity. God (or the devil) takes him at his word and dooms him to keep trying forever. Other details differ, but in many versions the sailors on the phantom ship try to give letters to their loved ones back home to be mailed. They are invariably addressed to people who are long dead.

A very early description of the Phantom Ship is given in Sir Walter Scott's Rokeby (1813). Parenthetically, Scott's 1821 novel The Pirate, while about a pirate ship rather than a phantom one, introduces the characters whose names, Tröil, Magnus and Minna, would be used in the early French opera Le vaisseau fantôme

Another early English version appeared in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. May 1821. In Vanderdecken's Message Home, or The Tenacity of Natural Affection, by an anonymous author, the narrator tells the story of Vanderdecken who has been roaming the seas for seventy years since making his rash vow. The captain hails every passing ship to give them letters to deliver but, when attempts are made to deliver the letters, the addressees are long dead. There is no mention of the supernatural, no curse and no possible escape. Wagner picks up this theme when the Norwegian sailors offer to deliver mail for the invisible members of the Dutchman's crew.

The Irish poet, Thomas Moore (1779-1852), a friend of Byron and Shelley and best known for The Last Rose of Summer, wrote The Indian Boat.

The playwright Edward Fitzball who specialized in melodrama in the tradition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, produced The Flying Dutchman or the Phantom Ship which opened at the Adelphi Theater in London in 1826. He described it as a 'piece of diablerie'. The Dutch Vanderdecken is a farcical villain, held in subjection by a submarine sorceress Roakalda. Every hundred years he is commanded to go on shore to seek a bride to share his fate. While on earth he must remain silent so it becomes a miming part. He kidnaps Lestelle Vanhelm who, like Senta in the opera, is obsessed with the story and the picture of the Dutchman. When he inadvertently speaks, he has to return to the sea, but is saved when his servant rows to his rescue. At the end, British flags are unfurled to general rejoicing and shouts of "huzza". Wagner may have heard of it because it contains elements he used: a ghostly chorus, the painting, the periodic looking for a bride, the song about the Dutchman, and the sailors' repeated "Yo ho"!

In the same year, Wilhelm Hauff produced Die Geschichte von dem Gespensterschiff (The Story of the Ghost Ship), one of the tales in Die Karawane (The Caravan). This has a Muslim setting. The captain and crew are cursed by a dervish just before they kill him. His men nail the captain to the mast and murder one another. Every night they come to life, but by day the ship drifts with its dead cargo and brings misfortune to all who cross its path. The curse could be broken if they could touch earth but they can never reach land. Finally a shipwrecked young man provides some. The complete text of this story, in German, may be found at Find Hauff on the author menu and then click on Märchen-Almanach auf das Jahr 1826.

Heinrich Heine's 1833 Aus den Memoiren des Herre von Schnabelewopski contains the ironic telling of the story which was Wagner's immediate source. The narrator tells of going to a play in Amsterdam in which the Dutchman may now go to shore every seven years instead of one hundred. The story is almost exactly like Wagner's until the heroine, Katerina replies she will be true unto death. At this point, the author tells of a beautiful Dutch girl in the audience who entices him away. After a romantic interlude with her, he returns to the theatre just as Katerina leaps into the sea, the curse is lifted, and the ship sinks. Heine ends with a double moral. For women it is that they should beware of marrying a Flying Dutchmen. For men it is that women will be their undoing. To see the complete text in both German and English, go to Click on Source texts and then onWagner: Der fliegende Holländer.

In 1839, one Captain Frederick Marryat produced The Phantom Ship or the Flying Dutchman , which may also have been known by Wagner. After a long absence it has recently been republished and is available in paperback.

In 1718 it was reported the Sir Walter Raleigh's ship, which first brought colonists to the Carolinas, was still frequently seen off the coast.

Several tales were told about Peter Rugg, a Boston man who made trip to Concord with his young daughter. When ready to return home there was a violent storm, but Peter vowed to get to Boston that night or never see his house again. That is exactly what happened. For many, many years afterward he was seen everywhere in the Northeast and was always accompanied by a violent storm. One account by William Austin (1824 and 1826) can be found at Click on Text by Author then find Austin, William. While not a sea story, the details of the oath and its consequences predate the printed German stories which could have been Wagner's sources.

James Fenimore Cooper, better known as the author of The Last of the Mohicans, wrote The Red Rover (1827). The beginning and the end are set in Newport, Rhode Island. There is a very strange ship and a stranger Captain Heidegger, variously described as a slaver or a pirate. The ship is often described as if it were enchanted; no crew can be seen on her, she seems to be shrouded in mist and can sail in either a storm or a calm which would defeat other ships. While this ship is not The Flying Dutchman the latter is mentioned several times as always being seen off the Cape of Good Hope,t never in northern waters. The story starts before the American Revolution and the Captain is finally redeemed by his service to the Colonies during that conflict. It has been suggested that this was one of the sources used by the librettists for Le vaisseau fantôme.

Finally, there is Washington Irving's tale The Stormship in his Bracebridge Hall (1822)

The story of Vanderdecken and his misfortunes continued to attract writers. In 1878 Henry Irving appeared in David Belasco's Vanderdecken. The preface tells how, about 1650, a captain who set sail to round Cape of Good Hope, defied God during storm, and now brings stormy weather with him wherever he goes.

In 1887 in London there was a Burlesque titled The Demon Seaman and the Lass that Loved a Sailor. In it the Dutchman was played by a woman.

An interesting version of the story is The Death Ship: A Strange Story by William Clark Russell (1888) which takes place at the end of the eighteenth century, i.e. before Wagner, and answers some of the questions which might have been raised about the opera's Dutchman. For example: how did the ship obtain food and other provisions? In an interesting twist, every time the ship tries to round the Cape and is blown back, the captain and crew lose all memory of previous trips and believe that it is still1653.

Another American story about a man doomed to sail for the rest of his life for uttering a curse is Edward Everett Hale's A Man Without a Country (1919). As a young Colonial officer, Philip Nolan got caught up in Aaron Burr's conspiracy. At his treason trial he shouted: "Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!". His wish was granted and he spent the rest of his life on various ships without ever hearing his country mentioned.

In July 11, 1881 a British Royal Navy ship rounding Africa claimed to have seen The Flying Dutchman. A sixteen- year-old midshipman described it thus:

At 4 a.m. The Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. She emitted a strange phosphorescent light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the mast, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief.

The look-out who first spotted the ship fell from a mast and died but the midshipman lived to become King George V of England.

Such sightings are now usually dismissed as mirages or optical illusions, but stories on the theme continue to be written. Two interesting examples are Jens Bjørneboe's The Dutchman and a 2001 novel by Brian Jacques: Castaways of the Flying Dutchman.

The Music of The Flying Dutchman

Wagner's first 'mature' opera, The Flying Dutchman (Der fliegende Holländer), should be considered in the context of developments in German opera during the first stirrings of the Romantic Movement. Works like Marschner's Der Vampyr and Weber's Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter) were a definite influence on the young composer. Elements of Romanticism present in these operas include a fascination with the supernatural, a generally melancholic atmosphere, depictions of the power of nature and a touch of religious sentiment. Unlike the earlier works, however, Wagner's music is much more successful in expressing these elements in quite specific ways. He is particularly effective in musically describing the internal emotions of his characters, giving them far more psychological depth and a sense of dramatic reality.

The overture is so telling of the opera's Romantic tendencies, beginning as it does with the depiction of a violent storm. One cannot avoid the impression of a great ship being tossed about in the waves and wind, blowing as it does from virtually "every page of the score" (so said one of the early conductors of the work). This storm is meant to be heard as metaphorical as well as real, however, since turbulent conflicts exist within the souls of at least two of the major characters, the Dutchman and Senta. And given the context of the story, no better metaphor exists than that of the original maelstrom that caused the Dutchman's problems in the first place.

Much is made of Wagner's leitmotif system, a musical device he used in later operas to bring unity to these sprawling works, but there isn't really a leitmotif system at work in Dutchman, as much as some commentators would like us to believe (The German word Leitmotiv, by the way, was not a word coined by Wagner himself but by some later commentators on his musical process). Musicologists of the first half of the twentieth century tried to attach a name to every theme in Wagner's works in order to show what a genius he was in providing a special musical theme or motive for every character, object, emotional or psychological state present in the librettos. However, simply the fact that the composer provided leitmotifs for various elements in his operas is not a sign of Wagner's genius. What he did with those leitmotifs is what made Wagner such an outstanding composer, the way these themes developed along with the psychological development of the characters in these operas. Der Ring des Nibelungen, for example, is fascinating because there is a vast amount of character development across its span of four separate operas. Along with that story development is a musical development of the leitmotifs so that we have, in a kind of musical short hand, a clear idea of what is going on with each character as the story progresses.

Such is not the case with The Flying Dutchman. Wagner's system of related motives unifying the musical drama had not yet coalesced at the time of the writing of this work, therefore any attempt to establish the identity of these themes with any certainty is ultimately doomed to failure. We can, however, say that some of the themes tend to be associated with certain characters or objects in the opera. For instance, the broad horn theme that is stated at the beginning of the overture is more or less associated with the character of the Dutchman, as it appears most often when he is either on stage or when he is referred to in the text. After the initial bluster in the overture subsides, everything dies down, there is a full stop, and a lovely new theme appears in the winds of the orchestra. This theme is associated with Senta because, again, it appears whenever Senta is on stage or referred to in the text. But is the theme actually a 'signature' tune, or is it evocative of her love and devotion for the Dutchman? Or perhaps the theme is broader than either solution and is really expressive of Senta's desire to be the Dutchman's salvation, or the Dutchman's desire to be saved by her. We'll never really know.

What we can know is that unlike the leitmotifs in the Ring, Wagner does not musically develop these thematic ideas. The Dutchman's theme referred to above is exactly the same at the end of the opera as it is at the beginning of the opera. The same can be said for the theme associated with Senta. There is no real musical development along with the dramatic development of the characters in their search for solutions to their problems. This attachment of themes and groups of themes to certain characters, then, can be seen in its infant stage in The Flying Dutchman, a simple precursor to a much more elaborate scheme to be devised for works such as Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger.

Wagner's use of themes in Dutchman is not terribly different from Verdi's use of the maledizione or 'curse' theme in Rigoletto. Verdi simply brings the theme back, either in the vocal part or in the orchestra, whenever Rigoletto refers to the curse of Monterone slung at him by the hapless father at the beginning of the opera. It is a case of what we call 'thematic reminiscence', not a true leitmotif, because like the Dutchman themes, the 'curse' theme never changes. It is the same in Act I as it is in Act IV. It's a clever device, and gives the audience a kind of 'sign-post' to follow through the progression of the work, but it is not a theme with the same dynamic nature as the 'love potion' theme in Tristan or the 'ring' motive in Das Rhinegold.

Wagner does, however, go a bit further in using these attached themes in The Flying Dutchman than Verdi does in Rigoletto, simply by virtue of the fact that there are more of them and they are utilized on a more regular basis and on a more structural level. Indeed one can say that Wagner has devised an entire music drama using only ten or twelve themes that he created to suggest certain characters, characteristics or occurrences in the opera. An entire unified fabric of thematic material tells the entire story in a relatively simple and elegant way. The process may become more complex with later operas, but it is a remarkable achievement even at this early point in the composer's career.


OVERTURE: The overture represents a raging storm amidst which we can hear the Dutchman's theme. As the storm calms, Senta's peaceful theme is played on woodwinds and horns.

ACT ONE: A rocky seacoast
Daland's ship has dropped anchor, and as they furl the sails, the Norwegian sailors chant Hohohe! Hallohe! Daland, who has been ashore to reconnoiter, appears announcing they have been blown seven miles off course. He tells the crew to get some rest. As the Steersman keeps watch, he sings of seeing his girl friend again after surviving the terrible storm (Mit Gewitter und Sturm — Through thunder and storm). He soon falls asleep.

Once more the storm begins to rage and a red-sailed ship, the "Flying Dutchman", appears. In silence the sails are furled and its captain, the Dutchman, comes ashore. In a long monolog (Die Frist ist um —The time is up), he tells how a curse has forced him to sail continuously, able to come ashore only once every seven years to seek redemption. He has often sought death by plunging into the sea or driving onto reefs but to no avail. Was the angel who won him a means of deliverence only mocking him? His only hope is the coming of the Day of Judgement.

Daland comes on the deck of his ship, sees the Flying Dutchman, hails its master, and asks if his ship was also damaged in the storm. The Dutchman tells him a little of his story and offers Daland a rich treasure if he will shelter him in his home. He then asks if the Norwegian captain has a daughter. When the answer is in the affirmative the Dutchman asks if she might be his wife, offering all of his treasure in return. Daland greedily agrees. When the weather changes, the two ships sail off together toward Daland's home.

ACT TWO: Daland's house. The wall is dominated by a large portrait of a pale man with a dark beard and in black clothes.
A group of young women are spinning and singing of their lovers' return (Summ und Brumm — Whir and whirl). Senta, Daland's daughter, is sitting dreamily to one side and gazing at the picture. Mary, Senta's nurse, asks her to join the group, but she does not hear. When the other girls tease her about being in love with the handsome young hunter Erik, she finally reacts and angrily tells them to stop their stupid song. She asks Mary to sing the ballad of the Dutchman, but the nurse refuses. Senta sings it herself, and we learn more of the story of the Dutchman. Desperately attempting to round a cape during a storm, he had cursed and sworn, "In all eternity I'll not give up!" Satan heard, took him at his word, and doomed him to sail on forever. An angel took pity on him and promised redemption if he could find a wife willing to die for him. Senta cries out that she wants to be that wife.

Erik appears, having overheard her last outburst, and is terrified for her. He announces that Daland's ship is approaching. He pleads with Senta to overcome her infatuation and relates a dream in which he saw two men on shore, her father and a stranger, the Dutchman (Auf hohen Felsen lag ich träumend — I lay dreaming on the lofty crag).. He saw Senta throw herself at the Dutchman's feet, ardently kiss him and sail out to sea with him. Senta doesn't hear him, she is mesmerized by her vision. Erik finally rushes off in horror.

Daland and the Dutchman enter and her father bids Senta make the Dutchman welcome. She recognizes him as the man in the picture and, while Senta and the Dutchman stare at each other, Daland tells his daughter of the stranger's offer, showing her the jewels he has been given (Mögst du, mein Kind — Would you, my child). Seeing that the two are interested only in each other, Daland leaves. In a long duet, both express wonder in the fulfillment of their dreams. Senta tells him she is always obedient to her father; she will marry him and hopes to be the means to his redemption. He tries to warn her of the danger she faces, but she is adamant; she will save him. Daland returns to ask if the welcome home feast can be combined with a betrothal. Once more Senta vows to be true until death.

ACT III: A bay with a rocky shore with the two ships and Daland's house in the background.
The sailors on Daland's ship are celebrating (Steuermann, lass die Wacht — Steersman, leave your watch), but the Flying Dutchman is dark and silent. As the girls and women arrive with food and drink, they call to the dark ship offering them some refreshment. When there is no answer, the men remark on the resemblance between the strange ship and that of the Dutchman, telling the girls not to wake the crew members for they are ghosts. The townspeople finally give up and start to feast. Soon there are signs of stirring on the Dutchman's ship and, although it is calm everywhere else, a storm comes up around it. Its ghoulish crew sings of the curse and asks if the captain is back with a wife. The two groups of sailors start a singing match to see which can be the loudest, but the Norwegians give up and, making the sign of the cross, leave their ship. The Dutch crew laughs and then falls silent once more.

Senta runs from the house followed by Erik. How could she forget her vow to him and pledge herself to someone she has never met? She tries to make him stop (she is obeying a higher duty), but he reminds her of the day she swore her eternal faith to him (Willst jenes Tag du nicht mehr entsinnen — Don't you remember that day...). The Dutchman overhears and, thinking her promise to him was not sincere, cries out despairingly that he is lost. He says farewell and orders his crew to make ready to sail. Senta tries to stop him, but he releases her from her vow to him. He tells her he is saving her from an awful fate; he is the "Dutchman" (Erfahre das Geschick — Learn the fate). If she had sworn before God she would be damned, but as she only swore to him, she is free to break her vow. But Senta has known his story all along. As Erik and the others plead with her, she throws herself into the sea crying, "Hier steh' ich treu dir bis zum Tod!" (Here I stand, faithful to you until death). The Flying Dutchman sinks and Senta and the Dutchman are seen rising to Heaven in each other's arms.

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