Now, it will be noted here that the whole thing is ridiculously stagey and artificial. In spite of the new ideas fermenting in Wagner’s brain, he had not yet got away from the stage-trickiness of Scribe. Unreality and artificiality face you at every step. The music is a different matter. No one, not even Mendelssohn in his Hebrides overture, has ever given us the sea, the noise and colour of it, its violence and ruthlessness, as Wagner has here. It is the sea that pervades the whole of the act; but imposed on its ceaseless sound there are very splendid things—some worn a little threadbare by now, but many still fresh. In the next act the prima donna has her opportunity. Senta, the heroine, sits at her spinning-wheel amidst a number of maidens. After a conventional spinning chorus, Senta sings the ballad of the Flying Dutchman, whose picture hangs on the wall, and ends up with an ecstatic appeal to Heaven, Fate—everyone in general and no one in particular—to give her the chance of saving him. Daland and Vanderdecken enter, and the drama begins to approach its climax. The spinning chorus is pretty; but nothing in the act—nor, in fact, in the whole opera—matches the glorious passage where Senta takes her fate in both hands and avows her resolution to follow the Dutchman to death or whatever else may befall.
The essence of the last act may be given in a few words. It begins as if Wagner had felt that he had not made sufficient use of the uncanny effects to be got out of the phantom ship, and we get a long string of choruses not necessary to the drama. At the last Vanderdecken, he, too, rises to the full height of his character, and, determining that he will not sacrifice Senta, renounces her and goes on board his boat to sail off. But Senta throws herself into the water after him; the phantom vessel falls to pieces, and the glorified forms of the two are seen mounting towards the sky. But Vanderdecken’s sudden resolve has the air of an afterthought, and counts for little beside the fact that throughout the drama the sacrifice of Senta has been insisted on as the price of his redemption. It is the Senta theme, also, that is played as the pair mount.