The Flying Dutchman

(Der fliegende Holländer)

GDR, 1964, 101 min, b&w
In German; English subtitles
Set Design
Costume Design


In order to escape her narrow and restrictive life, Senta, the daughter of a rich shipowner, seeks refuge in her fantasies and dreams. In this realm of imagination, a bold and restless sea captain appears to her—the Flying Dutchman—who is cursed to wander the seas forever. In her obsessive dreams, Senta frees this man through her love for him.


Herz’s successful staging of The Flying Dutchman at the Berlin Komische Oper in 1962 at the invitation of Walter Felsenstein, and subsequent productions at the Opernhaus Leipzig and Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, prompted an invitation to make a cinematic adaptation.


The only East German film to include elements of horror and vampire genres, The Flying Dutchman was the first complete Wagner opera ever made on film. The script clearly separated the real from the imaginary; in the original 35mm format, this was reflected visually by changing the image size—from Academy ratio for reality, to wide-screen for fantasy. The film was produced with a groundbreaking 4-channel magnetic soundtrack.


1965 Certificate of Honor, Edinburgh Film Festival

Press comments

“There is no other film quite like The Flying Dutchman. Part opera, part experimental sound collage, and part avant-garde cinema, it is a surrealistic take on Wagner’s opera that pushed the boundaries of film making at the time.”
—Monthly Film Series, Portland German Film Festival


"One of the very finest cinematic adaptations of an opera ever produced. A riveting vision of Wagner's dark tale, as visually impressive as it is psychologically acute."
— Hilan Warshaw, director of Wagner's Jews


"Joachim Herz promoted a revolutionary reading of the opera in 1960s—befitting the climate of postwar East Germany—that saw the narrative in terms of an individual's quest to break free from the shackles of bourgeois society."
— The Financial Times, 2012


“An homage to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.”
— Joy H. Calico, “Wagner in East Germany” in Wagner & Cinema


“Herz set new standards for the international interpretation of Wagner since the 1960s.”
— Kristel Pappel, Wagner 2013. Künstlerpositionen


“Productions of the opera since Joachim Herz’s 1964 film have been inclined to focus just as much on the escapist fantasies of the redeeming woman, Senta.”
— London Evening Standard


“Herz uses exceptional optical effects!”
— Günter Agde, film historian


Buy the DVDStream
DVD Bonus Features:
  • New Digitally Restored Transfer
  • Turn Subtitles On/Off
  • Biographies & Filmographies
  • Musicologist Kristel Pappel-Herz in Conversation with Film Historian Ralf Schenk, 2013
  • "Wagner in East Germany: The Flying Dutchman," by musicologist Joy H. Calico
  • "From an Interview with Joachim Herz," 1963
  • "The Image Emerges from the Music," by Joachim Herz, 2010
  • "Making a Film Opera," by Peter Ulbrich, 2013
  • Original Poster

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