A raging storm from which the Dutchman's theme emerges. As the storm calms, Senta's peaceful theme is played on woodwinds and horns.
A rocky seacoast.
Daland's ship has dropped anchor, and as they furl the sails, the Norwegian sailors chant Hohohe! Hallohe! Daland, who has been ashore to reconnoiter, appears to announce they have been blown seven miles off course. He tells the crew to get some rest. As the Steersman keeps watch, he sings of seeing his girlfriend again after surviving the terrible storm (Mit Gewitter und Sturm — Through thunder and storm). He falls asleep.
Once more the storm begins to rage and a red-sailed ship, the "Flying Dutchman", appears. In silence the sails are furled and its captain, the Dutchman, comes ashore. In a long monologue (Die Frist ist um — The time is up), he explains how a curse has forced him to sail continuously, able to come ashore only once every seven years to seek redemption. He has often sought death by plunging into the sea or driving onto reefs but to no avail. Was the angel who won him a means of deliverance only mocking him? His only hope is the coming of the Day of Judgment.
Daland, from the deck of his ship, sees the Flying Dutchman, hails its master, and asks if his ship was also damaged in the storm. The Dutchman tells him a little of his story and offers Daland a rich treasure if he will shelter him in his home. He then asks if the Norwegian captain has a daughter. When the answer is in the affirmative the Dutchman asks if she might be his wife, offering all of his treasure in return. Daland greedily agrees. When the weather permits, the two ships sail off toward Daland's home.
Daland's house. The wall is dominated by a large portrait of a pale man with a dark beard and in black clothes.
A group of young women spin and sing of their lovers' return (Summ und Brumm — Whir and whirl). Senta, Daland's daughter, sits dreamily to one side and gazes at the picture. Mary, Senta's nurse, asks her to join the group, but she does not hear. When the other girls tease her about being in love with the handsome young hunter Erik, she finally reacts and angrily tells them to stop their stupid song. She asks Mary to sing the ballad of the Dutchman, but the nurse refuses. Senta sings it herself, and we learn more of the story of the Dutchman. Desperately attempting to round a cape during a storm, he had cursed and sworn, "In all eternity I'll not give up!" Satan heard, took him at his word, and doomed him to sail on forever. An angel took pity on him and promised redemption if he could find a wife willing to die for him. Senta cries out that she wants to be that wife.
Erik appears, having overheard her last outburst, and is terrified for her. He announces that Daland's ship is approaching. He pleads with Senta to overcome her infatuation and relates a dream in which he saw two men on shore, her father and a stranger, the Dutchman (Auf hohen Felsen lag ich träumend — I lay dreaming on the lofty crag). He saw Senta throw herself at the Dutchman's feet, ardently kiss him and sail out to sea with him. Senta hears nothing, she is mesmerized by her vision. Erik rushes off in horror.
Daland and the Dutchman enter and her father bids Senta make the Dutchman welcome. She recognizes him as the man in the picture and, while Senta and the Dutchman stare at each other, Daland tells his daughter of the stranger's offer, showing her the jewels he has been given (Mögst du, mein Kind — Would you, my child). Seeing that the two are interested only in each other, Daland leaves. In a long duet, both express wonder in the fulfillment of their dreams. Senta tells him she is always obedient to her father; she will marry him and hopes to be the means to his redemption. He tries to warn her of the danger she faces, but she is adamant; she will save him. Daland returns to ask if the welcome home feast can be combined with a betrothal. Once more Senta vows to be true until death.
A bay with a rocky shore with the two ships and Daland's house in the background.
The sailors on Daland's ship are celebrating (Steuermann, lass die Wacht — Steersman, leave your watch), but the Flying Dutchman is dark and silent. As the girls and women arrive with food and drink, they call to the dark ship offering them some refreshment. When there is no answer, the men remark on the resemblance between the strange ship and that of the Dutchman, telling the girls not to wake the crew members for they are ghosts. The townspeople finally give up and start to feast. Soon there are signs of stirring on the Dutchman's ship and, although it is calm everywhere else, a storm comes up around it. Its ghoulish crew sings of the curse and asks if the captain is back with a wife. The two groups of sailors start a singing match, but the Norwegians give up and, making the sign of the cross, leave their ship. The Dutch crew laughs and then falls silent.
Senta runs from the house followed by Erik. How could she forget her vow to him and pledge herself to someone she has never met? She tries to make him stop (she is obeying a higher duty), but he reminds her of the day she swore her eternal faith to him (Willst jenes Tag du nicht mehr entsinnen — Don't you remember that day…). The Dutchman overhears and, thinking her promise to him was not sincere, cries out despairingly that he is lost. He says farewell and orders his crew to make ready to sail. Senta tries to stop him, but he releases her from her vow. He tells her he is saving her from an awful fate; he is the "Dutchman" (Erfahre das Geschick — Learn the fate). If she had sworn before God she would be damned, but as she only swore to him, she is free to break her vow. But Senta has known his story all along. As Erik and the others plead with her, she throws herself into the sea crying, "Hier steh´ ich treu dir bis zum Tod!" (Here I stand, faithful to you until death). The Flying Dutchman sinks and Senta and the Dutchman are seen rising to Heaven in each other's arms.
Courtesy of San Diego Opera’s Operapaedia