Senta, the daughter of merchant Donald is dead. She followed a stranger whom her father had brought her to marry. She was convinced that she had to die for him in order to save him. Was that madness or reality? Or simply a performance?
Merchant Donald is returning home from his voyage, but the storm prevents his ship to dock in the local harbor. The ship anchors in a sheltered bay until the storm passes. He and the ship crew retire and the last one among them to fall asleep is the helmsman.
After a while another ship seeks shelter in the same bay. The captain also anchors the ship and comes ashore. He is the Flying Dutchman and has been cursed with immortality and has to wander the world seas forever. His crew shares the same fate. The Flying Dutchman yearns for death as well as for redemption. Every seven years he has the opportunity for salvation – he is allowed to make landfall and find himself a wife. If she remains a faithful and devoted wife until her death, then he will finally be able to die.
When Donald and his helmsman wake up and notice the stranger, they greet him cordially. Impressed by the Dutchman’s wealth, Donald is ready to welcome him into his home. In his desire to break the curse, the Dutchman questions Donald whether he has a daughter. When he hears of Donald’s daughter Senta, he strikes a bargain very quickly. Senta will become his wife for a large sum of money. The storm abates and the ships set off to Donald’s house.
Senta awaits the return of her father and the other men from their journey with other young women. Despite the urgings of her nurse Mary, Senta refuses to join in the other women’s activities. She is preoccupied with thoughts of the mysterious man whose portrait is hanging on the wall – the Flying Dutchman. Other women tease her for her infatuation with a phantom and predict a jealous conflict between the Dutchman’s portrait and Senta’s real admirer, hunter Georg. Senta sings a ballad of the Flying Dutchman captivating all women. At the end of the ballad, it becomes clear how Senta is overpowered with the world of imagination: she asks God’s angels to allow her to be the one who will save the Flying Dutchman.
georg arrives and announces Donald’s return. He asks Senta for permission to ask Donald for her hand, but she replies evasively. Georg is hurt and frightened. He tells Senta about his dream in which she elopes with the man in the painting. Senta interprets Georg’s dream as a hint that the Flying Dutchman is really on his way and ignores Georg’s fears and entreaties.
Donald arrives and with him the Flying Dutchman. Senta recognizes him straightaway and accepts her father’s wish to marry this stranger. Left alone, Senta and the Flying Dutchman realise that they are meant for each other.
Donald’s men celebrate with their girlfriends and invite the Dutchman’s crew to join them. At first, they do not appear and there is silence on the ship. When they finally appear they carouse in such a manner that Donald’s crew is horrified and the party is abandoned.
Georg once again attempts to reason with Senta not to rush into engagement with a man she has just met and reminds her that she has already sworn to be true to him. The Flying Dutchman eavesdrops on this conversation, but hears only fragments and makes wrong conclusions that Senta already broke her vow to him. To save Senta from eternal damnation that befalls all his unfaithful brides, the Flying Dutchman breaks off the engagement, because until the marriage vows have been made in church Senta’s promise is not binding and she can still be saved. The Flying Dutchman races off to his ship, ordering the crew to set sail. Senta proves her faithfulness until death by following him.