Wagner eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 71 pages of information about Wagner.
is any likelihood of the storm ceasing—­a proceeding at which any land-lubber, not to mention experienced tars, might well laugh.  Finding himself far from his port and no probability of the wind and sea falling immediately, he goes on board again to take a little rest, and descends to his cabin, leaving a sailor as watchman, to see, I suppose, that the vessel does not batter itself to pieces on the cliffs.  The watchman sings himself to sleep with a most beautiful ballad.  The sky darkens, the sea boils more furiously than ever, and the phantom ship arrives.  With a prodigious uproar her anchor takes ground—­another evidence of Wagner’s seamanship—­and Vanderdecken comes ashore in his turn.  His seven years are up; now he has another chance of finding the faithful maiden.  The opening of this scene is as fine as anything Wagner ever wrote; the later portions are fine, too, but quite old-fashioned.  The storm ceases, and Vanderdecken having expressed his hopes and fears, Daland comes on deck, enters into conversation with the stranger, and in a few minutes it is arranged that the two shall go together, and if the Dutchman can win Senta’s heart, she shall be his.

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.

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Wagner from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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