The Flying Dutchman, or The Phantom Ship

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The Flying Dutchman, or The Phantom Ship is a nautical drama, in three acts by Edward Fitzball (1792–1873)[1], with music by George Rodwell.

Mostly referred to simply as The Flying Dutchman. This is also the English title of German composer Richard Wagner's opera, Der Fliegende Holländer.

The original text

The play is based on the mythic tale about a legendary ghost ship (known in Dutch as "De Vliegende Hollander") that sails the oceans into eternity, glowing with ghostly light and portending disaster to all that see it. According to the myth, Willem van der Decken, a captain of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), and a wealthy trader in command of the fastest ship of the VOC, named the "Hollander" ("Dutchman"). However overcome by greed, he becomes a pirate and when confronted by a storm, makes a pact with the Devil proclaiming: "I will sail, storm or not, Easter or not, prohibited or not. I will sail, even into eternity!" and so sailed into damnation, never able to make port and doomed to sail the oceans forever.

The play, set off the coast of the Cape of Good Hope, was written by Fitzball in 1826, and opened at the Adelphi Theatre London, 8 January 1827, with music by George Rodwell ()[].

Published in various editions by T.H. Lacy (London), G.H. Davidson (London), Samuel French (New York) and others during the 19th century.

Stage adaptations of the original myth

There have been numerous other literary and artistic versions of the tale, but the best known stage version, besides Fitzball's English melodrama, has been Der Fliegende Holländer[2] ("The Flying Dutchman"), the 1843 German opera by Richard Wagner (1813-1883)[3].

In 1842 Pierre-Louis Dietsch (1808-1865)[4] also composed a French opera called Le Vaisseau Fantôme, ou Le Maudit des Mers[] ("The Phantom Ship, or The Accursed of the Sea"), with a libretto by Paul Foucher and H. Révoil, based on Walter Scott's novel The Pirate as well as Captain Marryat's The Phantom Ship. The opera was first performed on 9 November 1842 at the Paris Opera.

Translations and adaptations of the play by Fitzball

A burlesque version of Fitzball's play was apparently done by the Christy Minstrels in the 1860s, also performed during their South African visit in 1862.

Performance history of the play in South Africa

1830: Played on 7 August by the All the World's a Stage in the African Theatre, with The Smoked Miser, or The Benefit of Hanging (Jerrold) as afterpiece.

1830: Repeated on 14 August by the All the World's a Stage in the African Theatre, with Lovers' Quarrels, or Like Master Like Man (King) as afterpiece.

1835: Played on 29 April by the Garrison Players (the Officers of the 98th Regiment) in the Amateur Theatre, with The Irish Tutor, or New Lights (Glengall) as afterpiece.

1835: Repeated on 3 June, by the Garrison Players (the Officers of the 98th Regiment) in the Amateur Theatre, with Amateurs and Actors (Peake, but credited to "Sheridan") as afterpiece.

1836: Played once more on 8 June by the Garrison Players in the Amateur Theatre(?), with The Irishman in London (Macready) as afterpiece.

1858: Performed on 6 April as The Flying Dutchman (and billed as the "Celebrated Nautical Romantic Drama") in the Harrington Street Theatre by Sefton Parry and his company, along with a reading of the ballad The Celebrated History of Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogen (Lewis), a performance of The Lottery Ticket (Beazley) and a song sung by J.E.H. English. Parry himself played "Van der Dercken" in the nautical play.

1858: Performed one more by Sefton Parry and his company on 9 April, now with The Honest Milkman (Brough), a "Jockey Dance" performed by Mr Gough, and a song sung by J.E.H. English

1862: A burlesque called The Flying Dutchman was regularly performed by the Christy Minstrels, as part of their repertoire while touring the Cape Province between September and November, inter alia playing in the Theatre Royal, The Circus and the Commercial Exchange in Cape Town, as well as venues in Simonstown, the Paarl, Stellenbosch, Worcester, Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown.

1866: Performed by the Le Roy-Duret Company in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 2 and 4 July, along with Is She a Woman? (Anon.).

1866: Performed by the Le Roy-Duret Company in the Harrington Street Theatre, Cape Town, on 5 July, along with Winning a Husband (Buckstone).

The opera by Wagner

Wagner's version introduced the idea of redemption through love as central theme and Wagner himself conducted the premiere at the Königliches Hoftheater in Dresden in 1843.

Though it is tempting to assume that Wagner used Fitzball's melodrama as a basis for his musical version, the idea for the opera was apparently taken from an episode in Heinrich Heine's satirical novel The Memoirs of Mister von Schnabelewopski (Aus den Memoiren des Herrn von Schnabelewopski, 1833), in which a character attends a theatrical performance of De Vliegende Hollander in Amsterdam.

Performance history of the opera in South Africa

1970: Presented by PACT Opera.

1976: Presented by CAPAB Opera

1978: Presented by CAPAB Opera

1986: Presented by CAPAB Opera (29 March – 12 April)

1993: Presented by CAPAB Opera (1–9 May)

2011: Presented at the Suidoosterfees (25–30 January)


Facsimile version of the T.H. Lacy edition of the original text by Fitzball, Hathi Trust Digital Library[5]

The Terrible Fitzball: The Melodramatist of the Macabre by Larry Stephen Clifton (Popular Press, 1993 )[6]

F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [7]: pp.195, 214,

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 69-72, 134, 141, 211, 214.

Wayne Muller. 2018. A reception history of opera in Cape Town: Tracing the development of a distinctly South African operatic aesthetic (1985–2015). Unpublished PhD thesis.

Alexandra Xenia Sabina Mossolow. 2003. The career of South African soprano Nellie du Toit, born 1929. Unpublished Masters thesis. University of Stellenbosch.

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