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.
b Leipzig, 22 May 1813; d Venice, 13 Feb 1883
Richard Wilhelm Wagner was born in Leipzig. Karl Friedrich Wagner, a local police official, was married to Wagner's mother, Johanna, at the time, but there is much evidence that a close family friend, Ludwig Geyer, was in fact Richard's father. Karl Wagner died when Richard was six months old. Geyer married Johanna within the year, and six months later a daughter, C&aauml;cilie, was born. In addition to a letter written by Wagner to C&aauml;cilie in later years, referring to "our father, Geyer," Wagner's close physical likeness to Geyer and their mutual devotion and attachment lent credence to the Geyer paternity.
Geyer, an actor, writer, portrait painter and lover of great literature, had a profound influence on Wagner. Richard's formative years were spent in a household filled with love of culture and the arts. Literature, rather than music, was his first love. His interest in the Homeric epics caused him to study Greek in order to read them in the original. His love of Shakespeare induced him to learn English. At age eleven, he was writing poetic drama filled with characters that die and reappear as ghosts.
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.
What does “family friendly” really mean?
It is somewhat rare to have an opera production that is family friendly – opera more often than not, involves a great deal of violence, romance, death and other adult subject matter, not to mention the usual three hour running time. So you might be wondering, “What do they mean, exactly, when they say Amahl and the Night Visitors is a ‘family friendly’ show?”
Indy Reads Books is an independent, non-profit, community bookstore. And, it is the only bookstore located in downtown Indianapolis. The store features a beautifully designed space which celebrates literacy, and features a stage area for author events. Inventory consists mainly of very reasonably priced used books of all types, as well as new books from the best-seller lists. All proceeds from the store benefit the adult literacy programs of the Indy Reads organization.
Bring your new or gently used books (no magazine's please) with you to Amahl and the Night Visitors
to be donated to Indy Reads Books.
Check out www.indyreadsdbooks.org for more information about this great organization.
The legend of the Flying Dutchman:
A Dutch sea captain once desperately attempted to round a cape during a storm. He cursed and swore, "In all eternity I won’t give up!" Satan heard, took him at his word, and doomed him to sail the seas for all eternity. An angel took pity on him and opened a path to salvation: Every seven years the Dutchman would be allowed on shore for one day. If, in that day, he is able to find a wife to be faithful until death, he would be redeemed. If, however, the woman does not keep her vow, she would share his fate of eternal damnation.
On its journey home, the ship of the Norwegian Captain Daland is forced to seek shelter in a small bay. While the crew and Daland rest on board, his steersman stays on watch. Trying to keep himself awake by singing a song, the steersman finally also falls asleep.
by Elizabeth Newton and Candace Evans courtesy of IU Opera Theater
The opera is set in the city of Thebes, Egypt. It is a series of episodes from the life of Akhnaten, Pharaoh of Egypt from 1351 to 1334 B.C.
The opera opens with an orchestral prelude and a reflection on the current conditions in Egypt. We are then introduced to the Scribe, a narrator who will guide us throughout the opera. The Scribe’s opening speech predicts the religious and social changes to come during the rule of Akhnaten.
Pharaoh Amenhotep III has died, and the people of Thebes bid farewell to him and accompany the funeral procession along the Nile.