The Wagner Journal

Edward A. Bortnichak and Paula M. Bortnichak, Redeeming Senta

Edward A. Bortnichak and Paula M. Bortnichak, Redeeming Senta

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March 2019, Volume 13, Number 1, 22–9.

Der fliegende Holländer may well be considered both the most approachable and the most enigmatic of the music dramas of Richard Wagner. It is uniquely ‘approachable’ for general audiences in that it is the most traditionally ‘operatic’ work in the Wagnerian canon with its still discernible set pieces, relatively short length and, at least at first glance, Romantic subject matter. That latter attribute, on closer inspection, proves to be the source of the work’s enigma: it is not a typical ‘love story’ at all, but rather is more appropriately seen as a profound treatise on the universal human condition and our spiritual need for the unconditional devotion of others, as represented in a Christian religious context by our hope for redemption of our faults through the intercession of a divine Creator. These deeper meanings have ensured a fascination for the work with all who have sought to stage it, for nearly two centuries. The literalness of Victorian-era naturalistic staging gradually gave way to Expressionist experiments in the 1920s and 1930s (famously in the 1929 Krolloper Berlin staging), impressionistic Jungian psychology-inspired readings throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and settings utilising deconstructive techniques to a greater or lesser extent, influenced by various schools of modern depth psychology during the past half-century. Central to this entire history of theatrical experimentation with Holländer have been the different solutions offered for what we dub the ‘Senta problem’.

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