|Director||Jan Philipp Gloger|
|Stage design||Christof Hetzer|
|Choral Conducting||Eberhard Friedrich|
Two Outsiders Yearning for Another Life
An Interview with Jan Philipp Gloger
Der fliegende Holländer belongs to the historical genre of romantic opera, which is defined, amongst other things, by a human encounter with a supernatural being. Nowadays, how does one stage a Holländer figure who has been sailing around the world for several hundred years?
Firstly, it was important for us not to see the Dutchman as Senta’s projection, as has occurred quite convincingly in the last few years. At the beginning we were much more interested in taking a closer look at the Dutchman and in giving a reality to his particularity – something in between a supernatural being and a man of flesh and blood. For us, a central point of departure was the fact that the Holländer cannot die, as he says in his opening monologue. Several suicide attempts have failed, he is eternally on the go, damned to eternal motion. Wagner spoke, in connection with the Holländer myth, about the ‘longing for calm amidst life’s storms’ and described this as the ‘most universal trait of mankind’. The parallels to our own time, in which ever more mobility and flexibility is demanded of people, stared us in the face.
That means, the story can also be told without a ship?
It seemed to us more important, in any case, to find an image for the ungovernable power of the sea, which dominates the work from the beginning of the overture and which never lets the action come to a standstill. The sea is a further protagonist in the first act, the Dutchman in his monologue addresses it as his opposite number. Wagner composed Der fliegende Holländer in Paris, having fled there from his creditors. There, his desire to be an artistic success didn’t come to pass, instead Wagner experienced a period of great need and frustration, which led him to question the state of the world and made him receptive to the ideas of the early French socialists. Now, whether one looks at it with this biographical knowledge, or whether one sees it from a current perspective, the sea also stands for a world which surrounds us, which affects us uncontrollably, vigorously, ruthlessly. To represent the sea as such a metaphor for the world and for life, our designer Christof Hetzer has created an installation which for me lends itself to many associations: a complex data network, an ungovernable world market, a metropolis seen from the air. At the same time it is a world of fleeting possibilities, endless opportunities, and there is a feeling that they must be grasped at all costs.
Where exactly does the Dutchman’s guilt lie, which causes his damnation and his need for redemption?
The legend says that he wanted to sail around a cape, but a storm threw him back time and again. Consequently he swore that, if need be, he would continue trying until eternity. So the Dutchman does not accept the limits set by nature, it’s a case of hubris. It is interesting that the aim of the early global seafarers was not only the exploration of the world, but also, above all, the development of new trading routes. That the desire for domination is a crime, in that it entails ruthlessness towards the world, that the cultivation of power with the empty goal of the sheer accumulation of capital becomes a self-defining aim, that is perhaps the fate of the Holländer as we see him. This way of life is a virus that has infected the Dutchman.
The Dutchman is allowed to go ashore every seven years, in order to find a women who is ‘faithful unto death’.
If one understands the death as an overarching metaphor for a final homecoming and a coming to peace, then the Dutchman’s redeemer is a woman who is able, by her faithfulness, to free him from his restless, hyper-accelerated lifestyle. We have interpreted this faithfulness as unconditional love. And a second aspect was important to us: in our mise en scène the Dutchman, condemned to eternal motion, has lost touch with his feelings because of his way of life. For the human interaction he still has is cold and concerned with work or with the profit-motive – and indeed this is also true of the people who meet him. Only through the unconditional love of a woman can this dynamic be halted, can the Dutchman again experience his feelings.
Before the Dutchman and Senta meet each other, Senta’s father Daland has already promised the rich stranger his daughter’s hand in marriage.
As an individual, Daland is not a bad person, but he demonstrates that he has been corrupted by the system in which he lives. A few years later, in 1849, Wagner speaks in his text Art and Revolution about the ‘delusion which makes human beings a subject of their own work, their own property’. Daland is part of a widespread system: it is remarkable how often money and property is spoken about in the Holländer – a connection to the theories with which Wagner came into contact in Paris. Thus, for example, Proudhon’s dictum ‘property is theft’ is relevant here. Daland’s actions are not deliberately harmful, the agreement which he strikes with the Dutchman – his daughter in return for treasure – is much more a sign of his way of thinking, which is geared towards property and increasing his profits, and which does not stop short of his own daughter. The other characters in Daland’s world also live by economic principles, which reach right into their emotional lives, for them property and happiness cannot be separated: ‘if you don’t spin, you’ll get no present from your darling’. Even Erik, although an outsider because of his job, is part of this system; he thinks that having no money is the greatest misfortune in the whole world. Only Senta is opposed to this simple logic, this simple logical relationship which is embedded in a world characterized by materialism and work, a standardised lifestyle and a careerist mentality.
When Senta falls in love with a story and a picture, isn’t she sick?
No! The world around her is sick. For me, Senta is a woman who has a very clear consciousness that she does not want to live like the other women. Just as the Holländer sees within her, she too sees within him an opportunity to flee from her previous existence. But this is an active exercise, not an escapist one: it’s not the case that Senta becomes an outsider through her love of the Dutchman; on the contrary, she also falls in love with him to show that she is dissatisfied with the life choices in her environment. Hence, her awareness of her mission is demonstrated by us not only in the Ballad: we have tried to give her a creative force, to show how she begins to form an alternative world, which is her judgment upon the spinning-room’s rigid system. Through her, Wagner’s vision of the ‘redemption of utilitarian mankind’ into ‘the artistic mankind of the future’ can be suggested, as he later described it in The Artwork of the Future.
You speak about the love between Senta and the Dutchman as if it were self-evident. Is the Holländer really a love story?
Yes, that is seen far too rarely! Senta and the Dutchman love each other. The Dutchman does ask himself if he should call this force ‘love’, and then denies it: ‘oh no! My longing is for salvation’. But at this point he simply can’t believe it yet! Wagner himself spoke about ‘his love’ and went on: ‘in his passionate warning to her of the stipulation that she must share his fate, he becomes truly human, while up to now he has generally conveyed the eerie impression of a ghost’. The Holländer really does find the way back to his feelings through Senta’s love. Together, they both believe that the world in which they are suffering can be changed. Why, then, do Senta and the Holländer ultimately come to grief? On the one hand, because they are unable to counter the society they despise with a concrete alternative – this again is linked to Wagner’s biography. At the time of the genesis of the Holländer he did register social ills, but he could not develop his own political vision until his Dresden years, in the context of the 1848 revolution. But also because of the psyche of the Dutchman, who is so deformed by his experiences that he is unable to trust Senta’s unconditional love, and who understands the slightest of occasions – her childhood friendship with Erik – to be a breach of faith. Thus the revolutionary love of Senta and the Dutchman fails. But because there was one great moment of sympathy, some sense of utopian freedom does not totally perish.