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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.