The Socialist State as Executioner of Love and Passion: “It’s for their OWN GOOD”—2010 Netherlands Opera Production of the Flying Dutchman Captures the Spirit

Suicide must be absolutely illegal.  The State has an unquestionable duty to prevent it.  Any person who attempts suicide and fails must be put to death as the only secure preventive measure.

I can just hear them saying in the back rooms of the Lewes Courthouse and Crown Prosecutors’ and Police Offices: “We done it for their own good I tell you, those wretched ungrateful bastards!  We shot em for their own good we did; we put the miserable buggers out of their pain.  It’s what you do with rabid dogs and people who insist what they have rights, you know, they’re just like terrorists and you gotta shoot’ em all.   Sie mõgen viele Freiheit haben.  Zu viel Freiheit, Ich Meine.”

The Ingsoc Socialist State Prosecutors of the United Kingdom have effectively murdered Megan Stammers and Jeremy Forrest—it has ruined their lives at any rate—at the very least we can say without contradiction that the State has spiritually murdered these reckless and illicit (that means “unlicensed”, but not necessarily evil) lovers who fled to France last September.   Spiritual murder does not leave much blood on the carpet literally, but it stains the soul.  Of course, the Socialist State acted for the good of Megan Stammers and her parents.  The Socialist State acted to protect all minors, and it did so by grooming them to be good and compliant slaves of the socialist state.   The message could not be clearer: Big Brother is VERY definitely watching YOU.

And as the real life Ingsoc State of Oceania has fulfilled its duty to extinguish love and passion and set an example for all those who might imagine themselves following in Megan and Jeremy’s footsteps—of fleeing to live out there love on the continent.  The Socialist State is crowing that they committed this dastardly kidnapping and spiritual murder for the good of everyone involved, and it is obvious that love and passion and the freedom to express those feelings pose an insurmountable, intolerable threat to the status quo in England.  But there are two ruined lives on the stage—still breathing but crushed, ruined, destroyed.   I have felt a need to relate this tragedy to art and mythology and all of a sudden I realize that this event was entirely prophesied by a wildly modernist production of one of my favorite “merged artworks.”

Anyone who reads almost anything and everything that I write can tell that I am a cultural reactionary.   I hate modernism in almost all its forms.  But I am fascinated by the sheer Brilliance of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and what a blueprint it was for the happy modern (drugged, oversexed, and nearly brain-dead, hopelessly overwhelmed with media and medication) world we life in.  As a consequence I am often extremely prejudiced against modern stagings and productions of my favorite operas and theatrical dramas from the past, and that includes, of course, all of Richard Wagner’s works.  Approximately 15 years ago, exactly sometime last Fall anyhow, I took my son Charlie to his first live opera ever (in Houston).  He was 5 going on 6 then and probably just a tad too young to really appreciate everything, but not a day too young to be introduced to the great civilized ritual which is going to opera.  The opera in question was the Flying Dutchman.

This month, reflecting back, I happened across a production of that opera I had never seen before, Netherlands Opera 2010—Amsterdam State Theatre—Senta played by the truly marvelous singer and actress Catherine Nagelstad, whose portrayal of Senta bears my highest certificate of “Emotionally Credible and Real.”

Senta is a loner, caught between the major men in her life and obviously quite different from alienated from the other ordinary women around her.   She has developed an infatuation with a myth, a story embodied to her only by a picture on the wall of her father’s house, of Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken, a kind of Dutch “Davy Jones” figure, the captain of the ghost-ship “The Flying Dutchman.” 

Richard Wagner considered The Flying Dutchman, which premiered under the 29 year old composer’s (and librettist’s) own baton as conductor and director on 2 January 1843 in the Saxon Kingdom’s capital of Dresden (now the capital of the Free State of Saxony within the Bundesrepublik Deutschland), to be his first fully “mature” opera—wherein he became a poet as well as a musician (his words and thoughts, not mine—I actually like Wagner’s Rienzi quite a lot).  

Perhaps the “mature” part of Wagner’s composition was his earliest expression of the pseudo-Buddhist, quasi-Schopenhauerian notion of self-extinguishment in death being the key to salvation.  Almost all of Wagner’s ten “canonical” works (except for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg) take this theme as a central point.  Senta, the very first of Wagner’s self-destructive heroines, is the only one who commits suicide in the commonly understood traditional sense, at least in Wagner’s libretto.  

Reading along in Wagner’s libretto as I watched the Netherlands Opera 2010 production, I could envision Senta’s words as expressions of thoughts that Megan Stammers may be having but cannot well express.  And of course, it is indisputable that Megan Stammers has at one or more points during this drama felt and expressed ideations of suicide.  That was part of the way in which SHE exercised control over and manipulated Jeremy Stammers—totally the opposite of the tripe and doggerel promulgated by the U.K. Crown Attorneys’ propaganda machine to justify their show trial with the fixed, fully controlled, totally ignorant jury.  I was thinking of posting some of those quotes here.  But once I got to the end of the opera video-file, I realized that the Amsterdam Theatre’s ending was much more important than any of Wagner’s text which is readily available in any language on the web as it’s all out of copyright.  But I urge all my readers to watch this production of Der Fliegende Holländer in memory of the now condemned and executed love that Megan and Jeremy shared.  

I realize that this is called a “Spoiler”—and it is indeed a spoiler of the unique and shocking ending of the Netherlands Opera 2010 production—so anyone who hates “spoilers” should stop reading right now.  As everyone who knows Wagner’s opera knows—-the Flying Dutchman (known to all literature EXCEPT the Wagner libretto as Captain Hendrick Vanderdecken) suffers from a self-invited curse brought on by blasphemy which condemns him to sail the seas until the very end of time, the Second Coming of Christ—“when all the dead arise from the sleep their graves, I will vanish into nothingness.”  

The only “early way out” or exit for the doomed Captain (and his somewhat unjustly included entire crew) is this promise, which one can only suppose Satan put in for giggles, that if the Dutchman could ever, on any one of his single days stops on land every seven years, if the Dutchman could ever, in a single day, find a woman who would “love him to death” (that phrase has acquired such a commonplace and prosaic sound in modern English doesn’t it, because nobody thinks of the original implication: being true and loyal until deathit’s a totally inconceivable thought to the modern mind anyhow—so why WOULD anybody thing about it?).  Realistically, the Dutchman’s odds of meeting a girl who’d like him at all, strange as he was, in a single day’s stop on land were pretty grim, never mind one who would fall in love with him and be true until death.  And his crew knew it and they really thought it was a pretty bad joke—they sing about it in their only chorus during the final act.  So for 500 years the Dutchman sails the seas, stopping every 7 years for one day on land, looking for a girl, then setting off to sea again.

Senta, the lonely girl, the dreamer, has become obsessed with the story of the Flying Dutchman—there is no explanation for why her father Daland had a picture of the Dutchman on one of the central walls of the family home in Norway.  Daland was an ordinary commercial sea captain who is hoping his daughter will marry a rich man.  Daland meets the Dutchman near Sandwike during a major storm.  Daland invites the Dutchman home to meet his daughter, apparently having no clue of either his daughter’s obsession or the Dutchman’s identity (despite the fact that he looks extremely strange and has a ton of treasure and an undamaged if very old ship, all utterly unexplained and unquestioned).  

Naturally, a pretty girl like Senta hasn’t gone unnoticed all her life and she has a normal young man interested in her, by the name of Erik—a huntsman.  In Richard Wagner’s original version, and in the Netherlands’ Opera version, the Dutchman and Senta need less than half of Act II to fall in love and become engaged.  Daland is thrilled that his daughter has chosen such a wealthy husband, and Erik is just kind of shunted off to the side.  Then in the original, and in the Netherlands’ Opera 2010 version, Erik tries to remind Senta that although he isn’t nearly as weird as the doomed Dutchman, he’s really an OK chap and they’ve had some good times together in the past.  

Though Senta is totally committed to the Dutchman, the Dutchman for all his immortality cannot read minds.  So when he sees Erik and Senta together he imagines that Senta is already being unfaithful to him—but unlike all other women who have previously betrayed him, he does not condemn her.   Instead the Dutchman just announces who he really is to everyone’s horror (and Dense Daddy Daland’s miserable confusion) and he sets sail.

Now here is where the Netherlands’ Opera’s production becomes prophetic of the story of Megan Stammers and Jeremy Forrest.   When the Dutchman sets sail according to Wagner’s original stage directions, Senta runs away from her father and family (and Erik), climbs a nearby cliff or promontory, calls after him, confirms her previously (freely and firmly granted) oath, “Hier steh’ ich treu dir bis zum Tod!”  (Here I stand, true to you until death!) and with that throws herself into the rocks and waves below.  

Senta’s self-sacrifice, her proud and enthusiastic suicide, in Wagner’s text, liberates Captain Vanderdecken from his curse, and his ship (the REAL “Flying Dutchman”) sinks (along with the crew, for who I feel some sympathy—THEY didn’t blaspheme and make deals with Satan, at least no more than most sailors and seamen do). From the wreckage of the Dutchman’s ghost ship, according to Wagner, the figures of the pale Captain and his new bride rise in spiritual freedom to live and love freed from earthly bonds, chains, and curses.   As Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche once somewhat ironically wrote, the story just ends there because it has to end there: once they are happy, no interest inheres in or attaches to the “happily ever afterlife” of Senta and Vanderdecken—once saved, the Dutchman is a quite ordinary spirit….and Senta has fulfilled her one great dream and purpose in life—which was to save Der  Bleiche Seemann.  

The Netherlands’ Opera 2010 production radically ditches Wagner’s libretto and substitutes an extremely grim modern “Socialist Realist” ending: seeing Senta’s self-destruction and suicide as imminent, inevitable, as a result of her blind passion and “mad, non-conformist” dreams, Erik, the young man who loves her (and oh, by the way, a rifle-carrying huntsman) shoots and kills her and the Dutchman.  Obviously, this was the only thing that any rational person could do with Megan, with Senta, with the dangerous Dutchman, or the Evil Paedophile Mr. Jeremy Stammers.

In this way, Erik has assumed the role of the State who knows best what is good for people, and mad-passion is NOT good for people.  Mad-passion leads to suicide and, well, you have to prevent young people from having these feelings that lead to suicide.  So you just have to shoot them.  Nothing could be worse than seeing your 15 year old daughter run away and be happily in love now, could it?

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