Sandwikke, a Norwegian fishing village
On Daland's ship
Daland, a sea-captain, drops anchor near his home harbor, and orders the Steersman to keep watch. The tired man falls asleep and fails to see the arrival of the Dutchman’s ship, which anchors beside Daland’s vessel. When Daland discovers the strange ship, he calls to its captain, who identifies himself simply as “a Dutchman” and offers a rich reward for one night’s lodging. He then offers his fabulous treasure as a dowry for the hand of Daland’s daughter, and Daland eagerly agrees.
Daland’s daughter, Senta, stares at a portrait of the Flying Dutchman while the women around her sing as they work. Senta then sings a song about the Dutchman, a sea-captain condemned by Satan to sail for eternity. He is permitted to set foot on land only once every seven years, to search for salvation in a woman’s love. Mary, Senta’s companion, scolds Senta for her obsession with this legend, and tells her that when her father returns, she will ask him to remove from the house the picture of the Dutchman. Erik, Senta’s suitor, enters to say that he has seen her father’s ship sailing towards harbor. He presses her to ask her father to give him her hand. Senta, however, continues to speak of her fascination with the Flying Dutchman, and Erik tells her of a dream in which he saw her embrace a strange seaman. In despair, Erik leaves.
Daland then enters with his guest, and Senta is mesmerized by the Dutchman, whom she recognizes from the portrait. Daland explains that the stranger has asked for her hand in marriage and leaves the couple together. Senta agrees to marry the Dutchman.
By the Dutchman's ship
During a celebration, sailors and their women are terrified by an encounter with the Dutchman’s ghostly crew. Erik and Senta enter. Erik is angry, as he has learned that Senta has accepted the hand of the Dutchman. As Erik reminds Senta of her promise to love him, the Dutchman enters and overhears the exchange. Convinced that Senta is unfaithful to him, the Dutchman tells her that he is leaving and prepares to set sail. Proclaiming her eternal faithfulness to the Dutchman, Senta dies.