Der fliegende Holländer, one of Wagner's most popular works, is closely connected with Riga where the composer worked as Music Director from 1837 to 1839. Escaping his creditors in Riga by ship to London, Wagner was nearly shipwrecked. It was this frightening experience that inspired him to write Der fliegende Holländer. The ocean as a violent, relentless force is omnipresent in this romantic opera about a man cursed to roam the seas forever - until he finds a woman who will love him more than life itself.
A storm has driven the Norwegian sea captain Daland's ship ashore. The voyage has exhausted the crew and soon they all go to rest. The Steersman tries to keep up his spirits with a song but falls asleep on the watch. Suddenly a strange vessel pulls alongside Daland's ship, and its captain is the Flying Dutchman. A curse lies upon him - the seaman is condemned to eternal wandering unimpeded by storms or pirates. Once in seven years he is permitted to land. The Dutchman offers Daland unheard-of wealth, pleading in return for lodging and Senta's, the Norwegian captain's daughter's, hand. Daland accepts the Dutchman's proposal. The ships set sail.
Waiting for the return of Daland's ship, the girls are working on their spinning wheels and singing. Senta's friends tease her about the ardent suitor the huntsman Erik who hates the portrait at which Senta stares for a long time. Senta, heedless of facetious remarks, sings a ballad about the Flying Dutchman, which she came to love already in childhood, and discloses her innermost secret: with a faithful love she wishes to save the harried seaman. Senta's words surprise Erik, who is overtaken by a strange foreboding. He relates a dream in which he saw her embrace the stranger from the portrait. The Dutchman and Senta's father appear, and the father announces the marriage arrangement. Senta is transfixed by the Dutchman. The Dutchman does not turn his eyes from Senta - her love and faithfulness will lift his curse.
Sailors celebrate their safe return. They call out to the Dutchman's ship, inviting the crew to join them, but the ship remains dark and silent. Daland's sailors deride the mysterious crew and the sea ghost - the Flying Dutchman. A storm rises. Apparitions approach the shore over the waves - the invitied guests have arrived.
Erik tries to dissuade Senta from binding her life with the weird stranger. Senta is unwilling to listen to him, she has made an oath and is called by a supreme mission. Erik then reminds her of his love for her. The Dutchman, seeing Senta together with Erik, is stricken by desperate jealousy and a sense of loss - Senta, too, has failed to render him undying faithfulness. 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. His odyssey has come to an end...