Redemption from what? Salvation by what?
Thoughts on Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman
by Joachim Schamberger
Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman is one of the most dramatically exciting pieces in all of opera. The story of the cursed sailor who is doomed to sail the seas for all eternity in a ghost ship, and the young woman who sacrifices herself for his redemption has fascinated opera-goers for generations.
The idea of a woman sacrificing herself to redeem a man from guilt or a curse is a recurring theme in Wagner’s work. But what does that mean? Is it just a romantically idealized view of female purity?
The key to my understanding of the story lies in seeing the Dutchman and Senta as one person, not as separate individuals. They respectively personify masculine and feminine principles in each of us.
Wagner's first mature opera, The Flying Dutchman, should be considered in the context of developments in German opera during the first stirrings of Romanticism. Works like Marschner's Der Vampyrand Weber's Der Freischütz (The Freeshooter) were a definite influence on the young composer, with their fascination with the supernatural, a generally melancholic atmosphere, depictions of the power of nature and religious sentiment. Wagner, however, seeks to express these elements in quite specific ways, particularly in depicting the emotions of his characters, which are graced with psychological depth and a sense of dramatic reality.
by Candace Evans courtesy of IU Opera Theater
When asked to direct this production, I was at once delighted and overwhelmed. The music of Philip Glass is uniquely challenging, and the scope of Egyptian history is vast.
My ﬁrst step with any opera is always the music. Why was it written and orchestrated as it was? What did the libretto illuminate? And, most urgently, what was the real story being told? As I listened again and again, ideas began to form.
Parallel to this world of listening, I began doing research. Beyond the Tutankhamen exhibits which toured the United States, a few hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the opera Aida
, my knowledge of Egypt was minimal. One of the great joys of my career is the continual expansion of knowledge that accompanies each project. New language, rich history, varied geography, fascinating social behavior, and apparel are revelations within each directorial assignment. I studied books, toured exhibitions, watched historical DVDs, and immersed myself in all things Egyptian, all the while continuing to listen to the music.
by Daniel Bishop courtesy of IU Opera Theater
We know very little about the historical Akhnaten, the rebellious Egyptian Pharaoh of the fourteenth century B.C.E., who initiated the short-lived religious reform that came to be known as the Amarna period. In approaching tonight’s opera,we might imagine ourselves as archaeologists, examining millennia-old stellae inscriptions and sarcophagus carvings. Always, with such relics, far more is lost than is preserved. Akhnaten
, like ancient history itself, embraces distances and gaps in its search for familiarity and relevance.
"Adoration of the Magi" by Hieronymus Bosch
A note about the inspiration for Amahl and the Night Visitors from Gian Carlo Menotti:
This is an opera for children because it tries to recapture my own childhood. You see, when I was a child I lived in Italy, and in Italy we have no Santa Claus. I suppose that Santa Claus is much too busy with American children to be able to handle Italian children as well. Our gifts were brought to us by the Three Kings, instead.
I actually never met the Three Kings—it didn't matter how hard my little brother and I tried to keep awake at night to catch a glimpse of the Three Royal Visitors, we would always fall asleep just before they arrived. But I do remember hearing them. I remember the weird cadence of their song in the dark distance; I remember the brittle sound of the camel's hooves crushing the frozen show; and I remember the mysterious tinkling of their silver bridles.
b Paris, June 17, 1818; d St. Cloud, October 18, 1893
Charles-François Gounod emerged as one of the leading figures in French music during the latter part of the 19th century. Although the composer never achieved the titanic stature of Wagner or Verdi, his opera Faust once rivaled in popularity some of their most successful works.
The young Gounod showed early artistic talent, but his parents were determined that he study law. His preference for music eventually won, and at the age of 16, the rebellious teen began the official path of a typical 19th-century composer in France.
At the Paris Conservatoire Gounod studied with Halévy, Le Sueur and Reicha. Winning the Prix de Rome in 1839, he embarked upon a two-year study in Italy, during which time the composer first became familiar with the Faust legend.
Returning to France, Gounod quickly obtained a position in a mission church but was fortunate to befriend an influential soprano, Pauline Viardot, who maneuvered a commission for him from the Paris Opéra. Sapho, set to a libretto by Emile Augier, was a succès d’estime — but not a huge box-office draw. It was dropped after six performances.
Cultural life in Paris during the 19th century evolved significantly amidst a whirlwind of improbable events. Tossed back and forth between democracy and autocracy, and transformed by an unlikely and unloved emperor from a medieval maze to well-ordered metropolis, the city’s turbulent history was reflected in its arts. Theaters were especially vulnerable; plagued with closures, relocations, bankruptcies and deadly fires, each competed aggressively for their piece of an upwardly mobile middle class. Out of the chaos emerged such disparate musical forces as Meyerbeer, Verdi, Wagner, Gounod, Bizet and Offenbach, all vying for the opera dollar.
A little political history might be in order. Following the revolution of 1789, which displaced Louis XVI and the ancien régime, the Jacobin Republic was established by 1791, followed by the Thermidorian Republic in 1794. As war was declared on the new government by Europe’s other powers (especially Austria, whose royal family member, Marie-Antoinette, had been executed by the rebels) France began to push beyond its national boundaries, and the new government found among its generals one of stellar quality. Little did they know young Napoleon Bonaparte would seize enough power to install his own Consulate in 1799 and crown himself emperor in 1804. His glory was short-lived, however, as his expansionist designs turned back at him — by 1814 he was ousted and exiled, and Louis XVI’s brothers, first Louis XVIII then Charles X, were restored to power.
The more I learn about opera, and become immersed in this world, the more I realize opera is everywhere. You may think you don’t know anything about this art form, that you don’t like opera, that it’s stuffy and boring and for gray haired old ladies – but several Hollywood directors would disagree with you. If Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Elvis think opera is cool, I can get on board too.
1. The Habanera from Bizet's Carmen
is one of the most performed operas in North America and the Habanera
has been performed and recreated in everything from Disney cartoons to Walmart commercials.The original: Maria Calla sings the HabaneraMovies you’ve heard it in: Trainspotting, Pixar’s UP
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