Opera Colorado updates Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” setting the old folk tale in the present (2024)

Regional opera companies always take a pause before they produce operas by Richard Wagner. The German composer has a big reputation for grand titles that unfold at a snail’s pace. Wagner’s famous “Ring” cycle, divided into four separate chapters, takes up to 15 hours to sing, and companies — when they take it on — often perform it over multiple nights.

That reputation can keep audiences from signing up to hear any of his music. “There is an image out there of Wagner only as the “Ring” cycle, this long, heavy epic that moves slowly over time,” said Opera Colorado general and artistic director Greg Carpenter.

Opera Colorado updates Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” setting the old folk tale in the present (1)

But, as Carpenter points out, there is more to the composer than plodding plot lines and marathon nights at the opera house. There is also “The Flying Dutchman,” a musical folktale that is more like one of the free-wheeling, emotionally indulgent, 19th-century opera warhorses — think Verdi or Rossini — that contemporary audiences love.

“Wagner was very influenced by Verdi in his early years, and this piece has much more of an Italian feel to it,” said Carpenter.

The company is bringing back the opera for the first time since 2008, when it staged a concert performance. The piece returns Feb. 24-March 3 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, the company’s home in the Denver Performing Arts Complex.

Opera Colorado updates Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” setting the old folk tale in the present (2)

The narrative of “The Flying Dutchman” is based on an old Nordic tale and “unfolds as a cursed captain and his ghostly crew sail the seas for eternity, condemned to never rest until he finds someone who can betrue to him,” as the show’s synopsis puts it. There is no saying how long this singing maritime band has been sailing or when it might find peace.

Until, as the opera unravels, he encounters a woman named Senta, who is “determined to break the curse through her unwavering devotion.” There are twists and turns to the plot until we find out if she is successful or not. Since many people here have not actually heard this opera, we will keep the ending unspoiled.

The opera is traditionally set in the period of sailing ships and maritime commerce, the era of ye olde port cities and pirates.But this production, searching for a new way to dig into Wagner, chose to move things to the present day. And why not? It is supposed to be a timeless tale; there is no rule that it has to be a period piece.

It is a bold choice, but one that makes easy sense.

So audiences will get a first act, set at sea, and two final acts, set in something that Carpenter describes as a “21st-century Eastern seaboard fishing village.” It will feel contemporary. The company hopes this update will make the story’s emotional elements resonate in a more personal way for people sitting in the seats.

The novel adaptation required a whole new production. Opera companies often rent sets and props from previous versions staged elsewhere to cut expenses. Opera Colorado is starting from scratch here.

Opera Colorado updates Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” setting the old folk tale in the present (3)

The challenge of creating scenery that spans the ages is going to set designer Alan E. Muraoka, costume designer Madison Booth and lighting designer Kendall Smith. Kathleen Smith Belcher is directing.

As with most of Opera Colorado’s offerings, in-house music director Ari Pelto will be on the podium in front of the orchestra.

New productions can be costly to produce, but Opera Colorado has its eyes on potential future revenue. Since “Dutchman” is not done so frequently around the globe, there are not a lot of existing sets for companies to rent.

This show is being designed to be portable and attractive to other “Dutchman” producers down the road. The whole show can be reduced to a kit that can be shipped in a single truck.Companies will just need to add their own singers to replace the cast in Denver.

That, by the way, includes Icelandic baritone Olafur Sigurdarson, who last sang here in 2018 when he took the title role in “Falstaff.” Soprano Marcy Stonikas will sing Senta. The cast also includes tenor Chad Shelton and bass Harold Wilson. There is a chorus, too, in this case directed by Sahar Nouri.

Future companies will also need to buy into Opera Colorado’s unique setting in the present time. It’s a leap, no doubt, and this month’s performances will likely show how well it works. For his part, Carpenter is all confidence.

“What’s important here is we are still telling the exact same story,” said Carpenter. “But we are elevating it in a way that makes it believable.”


Opera Colorado will perform “The Flying Dutchman” Feb. 24-March 3, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Tickets and info: 303-468-2030 or operacolorado.org.

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Opera Colorado updates Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” setting the old folk tale in the present (2024)


What is the story of the Flying Dutchman opera? ›

Taken from a famous Dutch legend, the opera's title character is a mysterious sea captain who is cursed to wander the earth. He comes ashore only once every seven years, searching for a woman who will be faithful to him. Arriving at a small seaside village, he encounters Daland, a fellow seaman.

What is the meaning of der fliegende Holländer? ›

Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), WWV 63, is a German-language opera, with libretto and music by Richard Wagner. The central theme is redemption through love. Wagner conducted the premiere at the Königliches Hoftheater Dresden in 1843.

What opera takes place on a ship? ›

HMS Pinafore is a comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan that is set on board a Royal Navy ship of the same name. The humour, in typical Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, stems from poking fun at the Navy and those who may be promoted to positions they aren't exactly qualified for.

What is the Flying Dutchman famous for? ›

Flying Dutchman, in European maritime legend, spectre ship doomed to sail forever; its appearance to seamen is believed to signal imminent disaster.

What was the real Flying Dutchman? ›

In real life the Flying Dutchman was a 17th century Dutch merchantman, captained by Captain Hendrick Van Der Decken, a skilled seaman but one of few scruples, and in 1680 was proceeding from Amsterdam to Batavia in the Dutch East Indies.

Why did Wagner write the Flying Dutchman? ›

Wagner knew the old story of the Flying Dutchman because he was a voracious reader, but he first decided to make it into an opera after a perilous sea voyage of his own. In 1839, he was fired from his job as conductor in Riga (now in Latvia, then in Russia), and was about to be arrested for debt.

Who is the captain of the Flying Dutchman? ›

While the origin of the Flying Dutchman is unknown, the ship was most notably captained by Davy Jones, who was saddled with the responsibility of ferrying the souls of deceased sailors to the Land of the Dead, until he was forsaken by the sea goddess Calypso.

What does verschiedene mean in German? ›

[fɛɐˈʃiːdn] adjective. 1. (= unterschiedlich) different; (= unähnlich) dissimilar; Meinungen etc differing, different.

What are the six types of opera? ›

If you happen to go to the opera one night, you are bound to stumble upon any one of the five most common types of opera still performed today in opera houses around the world. They are: Opera seria, opera buffa, opera semiseria, opéra comique, and grand opéra.

Is opera Chinese or Norwegian? ›

Opera Limited is a multinational technology conglomerate holding company headquartered in Oslo, Norway with additional offices in Europe, China, and Africa.

Are there two opera houses in New York? ›

In New York City, there are several prominent opera houses, including: The Metropolitan Opera House. The New York City Opera. The Rose Theater at Lincoln Center.

What is the summary of the Dutchman? ›

Summary. Dutchman is an emotionally charged and highly symbolic version of the Adam and Eve story, wherein a naive bourgeois Black man is murdered by an insane and calculating white seductress, who is coldly preparing for her next victim as the curtain comes down.

How does the opera the Flying Dutchman end? ›

He reveals his secret and sets off towards his ship to continue this endless roaming prescribed by the curse. Senta throws herself into the sea from the top of a cliff thus redeeming the Dutchman's sins with her death. The Flying Dutchman's ship disintegrates against the cliffs, and his odyssey comes to an end.

Where does the story of the Flying Dutchman come from? ›

Origin. The Flying Dutchman has its roots in the ancient maritime tales of the Netherlands. The story is believed to be based on real events, but over time it has been mixed with supernatural and mystical elements.

What happened to the crew of the Flying Dutchman? ›

With every year that passes, the crewmen become less human, their bodies taking on traits from the sea, until eventually they become part of the Flying Dutchman itself. After Jones' own death, the crew turned back to normal, with Will Turner as the new captain of the Dutchman.


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